Laila Majnu as a film is very similar to Majnu’s interpretation of love. More than Laila, Majnu is deeply in love with the idea of loving Laila, and hence flourishes in her longing rather than actually loving her even when she is right there. Similarly, the film is deeply in love with the classic concept of the magical love story, but doesn’t execute it with the finesse and softness that it rightly deserves. As a result, while it all looks gorgeously insane, the lunacy is more on the surface and doesn’t penetrate deep enough into the soul to truly internalize it.
The film’s first half tagged Laila especially evokes a lot of cringe – where a young, pretty girl loves getting stalked and equates it to her importance, and starts interacting with a guy just to check him out casually referring to the fact that she will anyway get married to someone else later but for now can add some spunk to her life! Laila is frankly as irritating as a certain Heer from Rockstar, and newcomer Tripti Dimri doesn’t do anything to raise her to someone more reasonable. She is particularly bad in the more emotional scenes whether it is with her man or with her father and is simply forgettable! However, she is also the trigger point that invokes the best out of Avinash Tiwary and the boy clearly shines in her presence. Its the dollops of charm that he infuses in Qais that its difficult not to be impressed, at the ease of his performance especially when things are still normal and happily romantic around.
I am surprised though how Kashmir actually remains underutilized in their developing story in spite to setting up the film close to heaven. Other than a few lifestyle nuances that are referred to, you don’t find the beauty of the place engulfing you, neither do you ever see any glimpses of of the socio political situation of the place on the proceedings which is honestly too much of a cinematic liberty to be accepted. I feel that the tension of the locale could have been seamlessly blended into the story and if done well, it could have significantly increased the cinematic turbulence of the second half.
Majnu – as the second half is tagged rightly, is definitely where the heart of the film lies. And yet it doesn’t lose itself to the highest levels of ‘roohani ishq’ that it desperately wants to. The unnecessary diversions of Qais losing his father or his rift with his sister over property do not help, neither do the overly melodramatic scenes of Laila with her family and her husband. Sumit Kaul is a huge disappointment as Ibban with his extremely over pitched acting and inconsistent Kashmiri accent and I kept thinking how wonderfully Parmeet Sethi could have played it himself in his younger days.
There is just too much time drifted away in these ineffective side tracks, and hence the supposedly intense progression of Avinash Tiwary from being Qais to Majnu feels short changed. It appeared rather jerky that life went in a particular melancholic way making peace with all its unfairness for four years, and then suddenly all the sadness erupts to such insanities without an extreme trigger point! It would have been far more relatable without the four years reference honestly. Also why did the eccentric moodiness need to be so much spoon-fed with either the constant repetitive references to ‘log kya kahenge‘, or more importantly with Avinash almost resorting to hamming to depict his divine connect and awareness? His rough edges especially show up in his one act scenes where he does not know how to calibrate his performance, and hence the obsession remains on the surface. Strangely, the similar frenzies of spiritual outbursts are delivered much better by him when he is in the company of Tripti, his friends or even a bunch of old men offering namaz, and he almost hits the bull’s eye with the wonderfully choreographed and enacted ‘Hafiz Hafiz’.
Hafiz Hafiz, Aahista and O Meri Laila are certainly the high points of the film and become far more effective in the way they are captured on screen along with the narrative than standalone. Sarphiri is another beautiful song that I honestly discovered while watching the film and now is going to stay with me. The other songs are quite forgettable and at a point especially in the first half, the songs do feel like an overkill and blocking the progress of the film. Same goes with the background score – its good, but gets overused for my liking and hence one loses the pristine connect that silence could have otherwise brought in.
In essence then, Sajid Ali under the guidance of his brother Imtiaz Ali tells a classic story we are all aware of, tells it in an Imtiaz-ish way we are all familiar with, takes us on a journey of self discovery that seeks liberation and divinity in its full wilderness, and then settles for an experience that remains short of surreal!
It should not have – for its goosebumpish to even think that this extent of love and longing can exist and be so real amongst two individuals. Life isn’t that beautiful. Love here dissolves in thin air in its mundane practicality. Time gets harshly therapeutic for such blissful love to continue breathing in its glory. But like Majnu, I am deeply in love with this concept of love – unbound.. eternal.. divine.., even if its too impractical to actually exist! And I wished that I could love the film that wants to so passionately talk about that kind of love as much as well. Sadly I could not.