This week's updated version of the classic love story 'Laila Majnu' releases – a tragedy that is part of Indian folklore, even though its origins are in Arabia – a tragedy written by the Persian poet Nizam Ganjavi.
There have been several film versions of the story, the best known being the 1976 'Laila Majnu', by HS Rawail. Starring Rishi Kapoor as Qais aka Majnu, and Ranjeeta Kaur as Laila – the two star-crossed beloveds. (Interestingly, Rishi's uncle Shammi Kapoor had played Majnu in the 1953 film with Nutan as Laila)
As it often happens in tragic love stories, Qais and Laila belonged to warring clans. “Amari aur Sharwari khaandaan jab kareeb aate hain to shehnaiyaan nahi baja karti, hamesha talwaarein hi khanakti hain,” thundered a line from the film.
They fell in love when they were kids – the kind of divine love that if one is hurt the other feels the pain. When the maulvi asked the students to write Allan on their slates, Qais, lost in thoughts of Laila, wrote her name instead. When the furious teacher caned his palm, Laila's palm bled.
When stories of their love spread, Laila's father feared for her reputation and the two children were separated by their clans. Years later, Qais visits the town and runs into Laila, and love strikes again. They start meeting in secret, much to the annoyance of Laila's brother Tabrez (Ranjeet). Things come to such a pass, that Tabrez ends up killing Qais's father, and Qais, in a rage, kills Tabrez.
Qais is banished from the town and wanders the deserts like a madman – hence the nickname Majnu (mad). Laila is married to prince Baksh (Danny Denzongpa), who strives to win her heart and get her to forget Qais. It is no spoiler that both die in the end, and the legend lives on.
One of the writers of the film was Abrar Alvi, who was associated with Guru Dutt. The lyrics were by Sahir Ludhianvi and the memorable music was by Madan Mohan who passed away before completing the film, which was then taken up by Jaidev. Songs like 'Husn hazir hai', 'Tere dar pe aaya hoon', 'Yeh deewane ki zid hai', 'Is Reshmi Paazzeb Ki Jhankar', 'Likh kar tera naam' were hits.
Rishi Kapoor was already a star after 'Bobby', but this film established him as the biggest romantic hero of his time, that helped him weather survive the action movie phase led by Amitabh Bachchan. Posters of him, with an anguished expression, tattered clothes and tousled hair were a rage. It remains Ranjeeta's best-known film, she had a burst of success – many films with Mithun Chakraborty – before fading away.
Today, the film seems melodramatic and kitschy, but back then it was a big hit, and the song, 'Koi patthar se na maro mere deewane ko' was blared from every radio station, as chart-topper of the day.