Dr Shruti Rawal
Assistant Professor, IIS (Deemed to be) University
The paper explores the layered notions of love and sanity as depicted in Imtiaz Ali’s Laila Majnu. The movie is a modern adaptation of the classic and tragic love story. The paper intends to not only analyze the movie, in all its hues, but discuss the modern notions of love, sanity and society. It has also explored the love as perceived in mysticism in Sufism and attempted to trace the similarities in both. The study becomes relevant in the contemporary context where our society employs love as a dividing agent rather than a binding one on pretexts like caste, religion and social status. The clash of the individual with the society, the beloved and more so with oneself lends layered textures on this story which the paper has explored.
Keywords : Love, sanity, insanity, serenity
‘Love’ has been attempted to be defined by poets, critics and writers across ages and genres, though it can be conveniently inferred that it is beyond all poetic endeavours and rationale. While Bacon perceived it ‘fit to be a matter of theatre and the cause of comedies and tragedies’ (Bacon 42), Shakespeare was of the view that the course of true love ‘never did run smooth’ (Shakespeare 5). Love has evolved from the grace of the sonnets to the fickle minded present generation where attachments change as rapidly as the pictures on the profile. Love has been misconstrued, misrepresented and invariably misunderstood. The earlier generation spent a lifetime with the stolen memories/ glances of their first love (as in the classic tale of “Usne Kaha Tha”) where a moment gave them happiness to last a lifetime. It compels us to wonder if it is the romance and mystery associated with a generation that did not communicate enough or they had patience enough that lasted a lifetime. But then love was never supposed to be easy, Bacon remarked, “It is impossible to love and to be wise…in life it doth much mischief; sometimes like a siren, sometimes like a fury.”(Bacon 42)
The tragic stories of lovers have always fascinated writers and artists and suffice is to say that it continues to mesmerize the coming generations. One of the numerous stories that have captured the imagination of manyis the story of Laila Majnu. The paper attempts to understand the nuances of this story, as depicted in Imtiaz Ali’s adaptation, without any reference to the original story or earlier adaptation. The attempt here is to study in isolation the serenity that love offers while claiming all and yet filling the void with the infinite.Mortality is depicted as a blissful placeand the lovers, despite being offered a chance at unison prefer to claim each other forever in afterlife, unperturbed by the other relationships and customs of the society. The inability of the lovers to understand the society as they become consumed by love appears irrational yet convincing. The paper is an attempt to understand if love is all consuming or constructive or destructive or both. It explores whether it is possible to love and be rational or whether by surrendering all sanity, one achieves it all.
Homayoun Hemmati refers to the story of Laila Majnu and refers to it as ‘mystical love’:
A model of mystical love is (Majnun), the hero of old Arabic tale, who lost his senses in his love of (Laila). This woman who was not even particularly beauti-ful, was for him the paragon of beauty, and as interpreted by the sufi poets became the manifestation of Divine Beauty seen through the eyes of love (20).
The story deals with two feuding families who are involved in a property dispute against the backdrop of the beautiful valleys of Kashmir. Each family considers itselfto be righteous and fails to understand how both are not at fault. Even in the basic plot, the movie vividly portrays what life essentially teaches, how we all perceive ourselves as morally right and virtuous. Love blossoms, in the most unlikely of all places: Qais Butt starts to pursue (not pester) the daughter of the archrival of his father, Laila. The maiden is not depicted as a damsel in distress or shy; she is rather of the opinion that marriage will claim all her freedom and hence she intends to enjoy whilst she can. She, then ventures in a playful exchange with Qais without realizing when she succumbs her heart to the charming and the soft hearted guy. As in any traditional love story, the families are unable to settle their mutual dispute which leads to miscommunication and confusion culminating in the unhappy marriage of Laila to an ambitious and cunning youth leader. After four years, when an emaciatedQais returns to India to attend the funeral of his father, he starts melting at the thought of seeing Laila. As they meet in an epic scene, he is unable to live the happiness of the moment and faints and Laila realizes what she has done to the person she had loved. She then musters up the courage to leave her husband when an unfortunate/ fortunate accident kills Laila’s husband. As Laila decides to leave her house, her father blackmails her for the second time asking her to stay only for the mourning period. At this juncture, Qais starts to lose his composure and his brother decides to take him to their farm house. Qais starts exploring the mountains and valleys (which had fascinated him since young age). He keeps immersing himself in the nature to discover his beloved, Laila, but it comes at the cost of his sanity. The movie ends at a very cathartic note when Laila comes to him, but he states that she has always been with him which evidences how the physical manifestation no longer holds any significance for him.
The larger question is the generalized perception of ‘sanity’ and because the present state of our existence is insane, do we still idealize sanity in worldly sense. In a poignant scene as he is talking to his ‘imaginary mashooq’, he disturbs the ‘namazis’, who is then offended with him. Qais then raises a very pertinent question, “I was talking to my mashooq and hence couldn’t hear you, just as you are talking to yours (implying God). Then, if I couldn’t hear you, how did you hear me?” If the world had half of its population engrossed in the pursuit of the ‘maashooq’, the problems of the world would be solved.
The tale of Laila and Majnuis the one of the best-known love stories of the Middle East. It is also remarkable as this story takes the dimension of Sufism as for them it is an allegory of mystical love. Sufis are deemed as lovers of God and for these mystics the relationship between a Sufi and God that of lover and Beloved and referred by Lee:
…it is the longing for their Beloved that turns them away from the world, drawing them deeper and deeper into the mystery of the heart. These lovers of God have made Laylâ and Majnûn their own story, full of symbols and images of this great love affair of the soul, a love affair as mad, dangerous and destructive as that experienced by the young man Qays, whose love for Laylâ changes his name to Majnûn, the mad one(Vaughan-Lee 2011).
The truly mystical quality of love is the way it transforms an individual’s inner core. The Sufis were aware of this all-consuming nature of love. The term referred for this is ‘fanaah’ which can be loosely translated in English as annihilation. The Sufis believe that love destroys all that is insignificant (especially ego) and what remains is only ‘love’.
The people are in the constant chase of corrupting factors like power or money which have disrupted the peace of human minds. If the world perceives the protagonist as insane then contrasted with the sanity of Laila’s husband he does little damage to the world. In what is insane, rests the sanity of the world.There is a constant awareness on the part of the protagonist of the customs and limitations of the society/ mortal world. He had, at one point believed that his beloved shall desert all to be a part of his life, which unfortunately did not happen. He then lets his love be a victim to the society and his ‘sane mind’ worked on the guidelines set by the world. He keeps repeating the phrase, “Duniyahai, duniyaadaarihai” (there is this world and the worldly customs), which is a helpless realization of the ruthless reality.
The story teller uses the literary device of ‘foreshadowing’ brilliantly, both with the events and places. One such instance is when the protagonist comments on the hero that the world rightly considers him ‘mad’, to which Qais replies that “if the world says that, then it has to be right’, giving an insight into the future of the character. Another moment which is significant is when Qais refuses to follow Laila and says “Go, now you, will have to seek me”, by which he intends that his absentia will be his presence, forever in her life. It becomes an important dialogue, as at different junctures in the movie, he leaves her only to be re discovered by her. The inevitability of fate is hinted in the statement when Qais reassures Laila, “What do you think, we are doing all this? Our story has been written”. Even if the fate they await is tragic, the realization of the fact that they have found their soul mates makes this fate bearable.
The consequential and heartfelt lyrics add to the plot giving it an ethereal dimension. The lyrics not only bring out the emotions of the character but add to the pathos of the storyline too. Phrases like, “Maine yaadtumharipehni h” (I have worn your memory) or “tera pyaarkhushikitehni h” (your love is like the stem of happiness) (3:44-4:15) do what the actions barely dream of.The sense of waiting which eventually leads to the insanity of the protagonist is conveyed in the song “Aahista”, which as poetry, overflows with emotions. As Laila asks him to fall in love, ‘slowly’, he asks, “hotakyahaiaahista” (what happens slowly) (4:24-4:45) conveying what may be perceived as the hamartia of the hero. As the external world and its intentions finally fall in place for the unison of the two, the waiting takes a toll on him.
The insane Qais appears to be a believable character who remains unperturbed by the world and its customs. This is in stark contrast to the character who had during the first conversation expressed his desire to meet the parents of Laila for marriage. From a loving brother, a carefree youth, an understanding son, he transforms to a person who becomes aware of the limitations of this physical world and disclaims all other living relation.The transition of the protagonist from a dashing, intelligent and resourceful youth to a hopeless insane romantic is not only believable but heart wrenching. In a poignant scene, when his father dies, and his relatives try to give comfort and solace to him, he is offended it and states that the dead body is not his father.
In Shaw’s play, Man and Superman, it is stated,“There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.” (Shaw 277) For Qais, gaining makes him lose it. He has to pay the price of his life in order to claim from the world what he truly desired. Like everything, love comes at a cost. The inability of the character to live ‘normally’ in the worldly sense and love at the same time due to the circumstances evokes essential questions on the conditions of human happiness and existence. The essential philosophical issue is what is perceived as ‘normal’. It is the ability to mask your desires, emotions and evil and pretend to be undisturbed by them, which Freud summed up as ‘Id’. The moment a person in unable to do the same and expresses what he really feels, he is labeled as insane. Qais’ love for Laila and his devotion to it makes him incapable to shoulder any other responsibility of the world.
There is an element of romance and glorification associated with unfulfilled and forbidden love. This may accrue to the fact that they do not undergo the disillusionment and the boredom of a couple whose love culminates in the bond of matrimony. The tales of Heer-Ranjha, Soni-Mahiwal, Romeo-Juliet are tales of tragedy, where both fate and society crush the blooming love of the couple. There rarely appears any glorification of those who spent years attempting to understand and then demystify the intricacies of a normal life as it is the routine everyday life that is lethal, which love fails to withstand. The romance of the rebellious becomes a prey to the dull routine of life.
The peace of Qais after he loses his sanity in the worldly sense is contagious. It makes one believe in the peace of the insane. What the society perceives to be madness proves to be a blissful state for the lover. He imagines his beloved to be a part of his world, though universe would be a more appropriate choice of word in this context. When Laila finally comes to him after overcoming all ordeals, he already perceives her in all. There is no element of ‘selflessness’ involved as the world ceases to exist for him. In fact, Rumi’s famous saying, “The wound is the place where light enters you”,aptly summarize the condition of the protagonist as the wound of love lets the divine light of the creator illuminate his soul.
The setting of the movie is crucial too, as when the society rejects, nature accepts. The blissful moments of the couple are in the valleys away from human habitation. Qais’ brother tries to take him closer to nature for his recovery but Qais feels at home in the lap of nature, so much so that he loses himself in it. The transformation of the hero from forlorn lover to a happy and self contained ‘insane’ is possible only amidst nature. The mountain that had enamored him earlier, now provide a safe haven to him and his imagined beloved. The journey is depicted through a song, “hafiz hafiz”, which brings forth his state: “jug main jug sa hoke reh tu/ suntaa reh bas kuchnakehtu/ baatienpathar, taaientohmatt/ humsahokarhans k sehtu” (stay in the world, like the world is/ listen to all but do not say anything/ words like stones, taunts like allegations/ be like us, smile and bear it) (1:57-2:04). The hero finally learns to embrace his fate and state in the presence of all embracing nature, losing his self. In his madness, there are traces of brilliance like that of Hamlet, though it does not look feigned.
The society takes the right to love and the lover claims his love in insanity. The people perceive their present conditions as sane, but if in this state they are constantly unhappy and unstable, insanity with its peace and serenity appears lucrative.
Love, thus transcends the physical for the not the eternal or immortal but a ‘peaceful’ state, not by the conventional definitions of the society.Qaisshowcases the eternal truth that forms the base of his mystical journey: the belief that the pure love destroys the individual ego/ self-love is the love that reveals the eternal presence of the Beloved within one’s heart. The delusion of parting is destroyed and the reality of union survives.
Ali, Sajid.Laila Majnu.Balaji Motion Pictures. 2018.
Bacon, Francis. “Of Love”. The Essays of Francis Bacon. Edited by Mary Augusta Scott. Scribner’s Sons., 1908. pp 42-25.
Hemmati, Homayoun. “The Concept of Love in Sufism”. Spektrum Iran, 2006. 14-22
Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. OUP, 1998. pp 5.
Shaw, George Bernard. Man and Superman: A Comedy and Philosophy. Orient Longmans Ltd., 1954. pp 377.
Vaughan-Lee, Llewellyn. “Love Is Fire and I Am Wood: Laylâ and Majnûn as a Sufi Allegory of Mystical Love”. August 2011, n.p.,The GoldenSufiCenter,Sufi Journal, goldensufi.org/love-is-fire-and-i-am-wood-layla-and-majnun-as-a-sufi-allegory-of-mystical-love/.