An ode to Sajid Ali’s Laila Majnu

Today was my fifth viewing of Laila Majnu. I believe I have been one of the biggest flag-bearer of the film right from when it came out two years ago. It feels like I am running some cult where I convert people to Laila Majnu viewers if not fanatics. At this point, I think I am just renewing my subscription of Zee5 every year, so that I can watch Laila Majnu after every few months. It is difficult to put my obsession with this film into words, but I am going to try. I wanted to pen this down for myself, so that from now on I can just point people in the direction of this article rather than trying to convince them with exasperation when they fail to understand my urgency and madness.

Before going ahead, I really need to thank Sucharita Tyagi for pushing me to go for this film. I was interested in it but wasn’t quite sure. Her Not a Movie Review and her afterthoughts on Twitter convinced me so bad that I went for a 9 a.m. show the very next day and I can’t thank her enough for this, for if it wasn’t for her, I would have missed the chance to watch this gem on the big screen.

Fair warning to everyone, please don’t give up in the first half of the film, you have no idea what’s in store for you once you move into the second half. This film is like a goldmine, the more you dig, the more you are going to find. I still discover new easter eggs and emotions even now. So, give this film a chance and stick till the end. Now, another warning for the ones who haven’t seen it yet, there are going to be spoilers moving ahead. If you have already watched it, please read ahead.


When the name of the tale is Laila Majnu, you already know what is going to happen in the end. And this is when it becomes all about the journey. When you separate yourself from the thought of the end result, you invest in the causes that lead to that point. The film is divided into two halves: first, Laila and second, Majnu.

Before I start talking about the movie, I have to introduce you to its exceptional soundtrack. My obsession for this film can only fall short in front of its music. Majority of the songs are composed by Joi Barua and Niladri Kumar, and written by Irshad Kamil. Need I say more? These melodies compliment the narrative so beautifully and at times help move the story forward. My love for this soundtrack started with O’Meri Laila by Atif Aslam, but quickly graduated to the entire album. It’s been two years and it still remains my most heard album and till date it holds the power to excite me, break me, and mend me. You can checkout the Audio Jukebox here – https://bit.ly/3auWW8O.

There is one more song, Jyotica Tangri’s version of Tum, which is not part of the jukebox and was released separately a year ago. You can check that out here – https://bit.ly/3kRd75i.


Tripti Dimri‘s Laila is a playful tease, who knows how to garner attention and enjoys it thoroughly without inhibitions. She is a romantic who falls in a pit of fantasies for an unknown guy at the mere mention of her friend kissing a boy the previous night. We get her introductory song – Gayee Kaam Se which aptly sums up her character. Laila wants to live in the moment and confesses that she wants to experience everything before her father marries her off to someone of his choice. At this point, she has no idea what she is signing up for, something that she won’t be able to get out of as much as she tries and something which would never be hers, even if she gives in with all her might.

Unlike Laila, Avinash Tiwary‘s Majnu (Qais Bhat) is fully aware of what he wants and wastes no time in indulging himself in his desires. Initially he might come across as a stalker, but he readily stops when Laila refuses to talk to him and then comes the iconic line from the film, ‘Ja ab nahi aata, ab tu hi dhoondh mujhe.‘ This line becomes the thread which binds the whole story together until it destroys the two people at both its ends.

This story has everything; political drama, family rivalry, an opportunist jerk who lusts after Laila and wants to marry her for his political (and personal) gains, orthodox family members, caring friends; everything. But this story is not about them, so we can skip them for now.

There are little nuances that build the base of their relationship and the film in general. Absurd rumours about both Laila and Qais, draw them towards each other rather than driving them away. There is a traffic signal guy who keeps smiling, enjoying the chase between them. Also, the waiter from whom Qais takes the serving tray to serve tea to Laila, is seen smiling as well. It is almost as if they know they are a part of this bigger narrative and they enjoy their role in it. We also get two lovely songs along both these scenes; Qais’s song request on radio, where we get to hear the passing melody of Joi Barua’s version of O’Meri Laila and Atif Aslam’s version of Tum, respectively.

What follows is an old-school tale of romance with a very colourful Laila lost in her fantasy land humming Sarphiri by Shreya Ghoshal. There are easter eggs almost everywhere in this film, the lyrics of Sarphiri, very subtly and aptly state ‘jo na the hum, jo honge nahi, aaja dono woh ho lein.’ I call her colourful because of her choice of costumes, she is almost always dressed in a very vibrant salwar-kameez, that compliments an inquisitive and adventurous Laila quite well, in her part of the film.

Even though everything goes downhill soon after, what stuck with me was that they never actually had a physical relationship. Laila keeps making fun of the fact that they still haven’t done anything, but that is what it remained. I often find myself thinking, what would be the intensity of such love that it was never about physicality at any point?

We now move to the second half of the movie, Majnu, which is set four years after the marriage fiasco. By this point, Qais is returning from London and Laila is married to the opportunist bastard that I mentioned earlier (Javed Parray, played by Sumit Kaul, who was phenomenal because I wanted to stab him in each and every frame he was in, which means he played his part well). This is where we witness the tonal shift of the film. Hitesh Sonic’s background score along with the soundtrack reaches its crescendo.

Majnu’s part is one exceptional scene after the other. It all starts when Qais first sees Laila for the first time in four years through a mirror at a cafe. He is unable to make himself meet her. We get the first glimpse of a broken Qais, who doesn’t know how to react anymore and he runs away from there and loses himself for the first time (for the audience). We peel the first layer of Majnu, not knowing that there would be many more to come.

Coming to my favourite scene from the film, when Qais and Laila meet each other for the first time. It is everything that you weren’t expecting and the way it shatters you, is another feeling altogether. I still cry every single time I see Majnu falling down after his eyes meet Laila. Avinash Tiwary’s acting in this scene will be talked for years to come. And I write this with a sense of certainty that it is going to be one of those performances that stand the test of time and will be referred to as one of the most iconic performances of 2000s. The artistic choice in this scene is worth noting, the fact that they chose to present a version of Qais that is clean-shaven, this is Qais in his most raw form. You see his bare soul almost instantly. We get Javed Ali’s rendition of Tum in the background, while Laila is reflecting on the choices she made. All of this together is bound to break you.

One can draw parallels between most of Imtiaz Ali’s key characters here (Imtiaz co-wrote this movie with his brother, Sajid Ali and I learnt that this scene was written by him). His characters, as we know, go through this sense of resignation in the course of their journey before finally acting on it. Take Veronica from Cocktail in the scene at the bar (which is another finest performances, oh that scene and Tera Naam Japdi Phiran!) or Jordan in Rockstar during Kun Faaya Kun, among others. It goes without saying that Irshad Kamil and Imtiaz Ali together always create pure magic.

Tripti Dimri shines in her confrontational scene with Sumit Kaul. Her pent-up anger leaves him stark naked. This is one of the most satisfying scenes for me, seeing Javed falling off his high horse gives me a rush of dopamine.

Moving on to the element of ‘waiting’ and Qais’s final downfall. When Laila asks him to wait for the first time because of her divorce, he embraces her and keeps looking at the wall clock ticking away. Time is slowly slipping from his hands and he starts to understand that he has no hold over it. This becomes more substantial when Laila asks him to wait for the period of iddat. He stands there, laughing hysterically, realising that the time that he had been looking forward to all his life is actually never going to come. We hear Ahista Ahista by Arijit Singh and Jonita Gandhi – ‘tum mere ho rahe, ya ho gaye, ya hai faasla? ‘ Also, whereas Laila is saying, ‘mere hona ahista ahista’, Majnu says, ‘hota kya hai ahista ahista, hona kya hai ahista ahista?’ They are at two different places already.

Quick Trivia: The scene where Qais disturbs an ongoing Namaz was also there in the 1976 Laila Majnu, where Rishi Kapoor beautifully delivers similar lines. This scene was powerful then and remains as powerful even now.

This is followed by Mohit Chauhan’s compelling Hafiz Hafiz, where we witness the prowess of Avinash Tiwary. His performance during this song and in the last few minutes of the film alone, is nothing short of a masterclass in acting. Special props to the make-up and costume department who make his Majnu look so believable. Just look at the gradual deterioration of his nails in these sequences.

In the end, I love how Laila for him becomes La-Ilaha and he breaks into La Ilaha Illallah, which means – there is no God but Allah. For him, Laila is this divine presence which is not physically attainable anymore, he can’t tell the difference between the real and imaginary Laila. He sees her everywhere and she, like God, becomes omnipresent.

The selection of Katyu Chuko, composed by Alif and sung by Mohammad Muneem, breathes life into the final sequence. I don’t understand the lyrics but the power of this song is such that it still pierces your heart. It puts you in a trance and makes you weep unbeknownst to you.

The film doesn’t end here though, here we get a happy ending unlike the original tale. We see Qais and Laila reuniting in heaven and merrily dancing to O’Meri Laila by Atif Aslam. Uff, my heart!

This ode is incomplete without complementing Sayak Bhattacharya’s cinematography. If for nothing else, watch this film for his breathtaking shots of Kashmir.

I am going to leave you with links to some interesting conversations around the music of the film. This two-part discussion initiated by Sucharita Tyagi with Sajid Ali, Niladri Kumar and Joi Barua is so wholesome. You learn their process, how all the songs came into being and a lot of trivia about the film.

Music of Laila Majnu – Part 1

Music of Laila Majnu – Part 2

One interesting thing that I learnt from this discussion was that this movie was shot in reverse. Hafiz Hafiz was the first sequence to be shot. It just blows my mind how Avinash could directly jump to the most intense section of the film. We see Qais’s journey and come to a point where he turns to Majnu. I can’t bring myself to imagine him not going through all those stages and still being able to give the performance that he did. It speaks volumes about him as an actor.

I would love to hear what you think of Laila Majnu and its music. You can share your thoughts in the comments section below or write to me at ayushagarwal.chd@gmail.com. You can also find me on Twitter – @TheWriteCafe_

Image Courtesy: IMDb, indiawest.com, Hungama and Dailymotion


One Reply to “An ode to Sajid Ali’s Laila Majnu”

  1. Much appreciation to this tribute. Beautifully penned, entire movie played before my eyes while reading it out. Can’t agree more on the fact, that avinash’s the next big thing happened to Bollywood. Am so glad he lived the character of Qais bhat, blown us away with that effortless transformation as Majnu. And Talking abt our laila, she was no Damsel in distress rather she was strong and fought her own battles gracefully. I loved how u mentioned those little details like traffic guy nd waiter smilling at them, how laila mocked him with “abhi bhi kuch nahi kar raha”. Those little deep dialogue exchange, as “naadan hai bechari”, “pahadon ke piche wali duniya”, “humari kahani likhi hui hai” , “ham lakh chupayae duniya ko pata chal hi jayega” , “intezaar,lamba interzar,divorce ka intezar,iddat ka intezar, samne khadi hai phir intezar” ,”mujhe tujhme bas ek hi naam-La Illaha” many more. And not to miss on jannat si Kashmir where the movie is shot, complemented by An outstanding music album which beautifully elevates the Tragedy. Music of this movie stay with u forever everytime you listen, it’d hit you diffrnt. Of course those magical signature touch of typical Imtiaz-s movies like balcony scenes, mirror scenes, passion for mountain, childhood reunions etc. Over all , this movie is criminally underrated. It deserves all the love and recognition. This movie ain’t watched, It’s Rather felt. #2yearsAndForeverOfLailaMajnu

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