'Laila Majnu' movie review: Nothing contemporary about this classic
Director: Sajid Ali
Cast: Avinash Tiwari, Tripti Dimri
The male protagonist of Laila Majnu is a jilted madman. You know it when he yells ‘meeeh’ to a herd of sheep, or when gossipy localites drop subtle verbal hints, such as… “That guy… he is a jilted madman.” His fuddled state of mind comes courtesy of a coquettish girl named Laila, who loves petting pigeons and being tailed by boys. Confounding as she is, Laila accepts an iPhone 5S as a gift of courtship from Majnu, but is outraged when he pays for her recharge. Such twisted convenience is lost on our hero, our ‘aashiq’, who wins her over with the pluckiest pick-up line in the Imtiaz Ali universe: “Chal, pakode khate hain…”
Directed by Imtiaz’s younger brother Sajid Ali, Laila Majnu is a painfully literal adaptation of the Persian narrative poem. Yes, the setting is contemporary Kashmir (complete with patrolling jawans and downed shutters), but the actual drama plays out in a filmy oblivion where glittery hallucinations comfort bereaved lovers. A world where words such as ‘falak’ and ‘bagawat’ seep out of Irshad Kamil’s lyrics and enter the parlance of college-going youngsters. If Laila Majnu had released two — er, three — decades ago, it would have dwarfed Salman Khan’s breakout romance Maine Pyar Kiya. Yet, despite repeated homages to the Sooraj Barjatya classic, this modern-ish update looks hardly like an update. Lush melodrama and feudal conflicts are milked to dryness in this film, and no amount of pop-up text messages or leaner jackets give it a present-day feel.
The actors, though, try their best. Avinash Tiwary (remembered from last year’s wonderful Tu Hai Mera Sunday) is earnest in his performance, while Tripti Dimri (who debuted with Poster Boys) is playful with her cues. It’s the overall characterisations that let them down. Avinash’s Qais (or Majnu) is treated as a clamorous embodiment of poetic ‘madness’: a low-rung cross between Shahid Kapoor from Haider and Ranveer Singh from Padmaavat who rages blind in the rolling hills of Kashmir, speaking frantically to an imaginary Laila after being abandoned by the real one. Actor Sumit Kaul (again, a stand-in for Jim Sarbh from Padmaavat) is given a wily and expressive gold-digger to play, but is done away with in an abrupt death scene. In the name of adaptation, what you get are tacky re-enactments, like some old classroom play being green-lit at the last hour for annual day.
This story is originally published in Cinema Express.