The biggest tragedy of Laila Majnu, is the fact that it could, nay, should have been so much better.
What it does, and does well, is to capture perfectly the hysterical frenzy of star-crossed lovers. Sajid Ali somehow manages to lay bare the tortured thought process of someone who has lived without hope for so long, he truly believes he’ll never know what happily ever after looks like. Ali tells us what happens when people dive headlong into the abyss of imagined conversations with their beloved, only to realise that coming back up for air is no longer an option.
What the film does not do, however, is give us a consistently coherent plot.
Everything from the contrived central conflict (family rivalry) of the film, its hasty resolution of the said conflict in the second half, was a misfire for sure. Most importantly, using Kashmir — with its unique history — as a junior artiste instead of a part of the main cast of a doomed love story, was an opportunity he should have never missed.
Co-written by Sajid and Imtiaz Ali, the latter of whom has perhaps not completely shaken off the dark place his last few movies came from; Laila Majnu’s narration-style can at times oscillate between maddening and madness.
Triptu Dimri does a commendable job as the lovelorn Laila, even if her version of the manic-pixie is borderline annoying. Sumit Kaul as the antagonist tries to do a decent job, but the Ali brothers sold him short with a role that’s ridiculous and creepy at the same time. In a story that’s meant to be a tragedy of legendary proportions, to have a villain that weak is inexcusably lazy writing.
It is Avinash Tiwary who stands out in this film as the unrestrained and instantly endearing hero, Qais. He plays a disarmingly honest Majnu in the first half, and a lover gone unhinged in the second with an ease most veterans would envy. But it wasn’t just fate that ruined things for Tiwary’s Qais, it’s also the film’s weak hold on its story-telling. Majnu isn’t the one who tends to be barely lucid in several portions of this film.
Unfortunately, the last thought you leave the theatre with is that Sajid Ali could have pulled Laila Majnu off, if it wasn’t for the rather large side of second-hand embarrassment that comes free with it.