Saturday, May 19, 2012

Dead Lovers

Sometimes back, while writing about the recently-released Hindi movie ‘Ishaqzaade’, I discussed about star-crossed lovers and tragic love stories, and while doing so, I had mentioned Romeo and Juliet. Over the years, Romeo and Juliet has become a shorthand for all tragic love stories, all love stories for that matter, a loverboy is called Romeo, not Majnu(n) or Ranjha... Now, ‘Ishaqzaade’ is playing at the theatre near you and the reviews are mixed — some liked it, some hated it — some liked it for the strong female lead played by a feisty Ms Chopra, and some hated the film for forcing this feisty female lead to be a victim of a ‘honour killing’-like situation.

I was thinking of star-crossed lovers, two young people, who, after seeing each other in a chance encounter, throw caution in the wind and embrace death as the only means to be with the beloved. I was thinking when the Romeo-Juliet story became the template for such universal stories, especially in India, where we have our own versions of Romeos and Juliets. Is it because of a certain person called Mr Shakespeare, or it is the colonial hangover, or is it the occidental influence? Or, is it that they die in the end?

Pre-colonial, pre-Mughal India was far more optimistic to lead the protagonists of their tales to violent deaths. Though there were trial and tribulations, there were breakups and separations, lovers pining away in melancholia (‘Biraha’ was a genre in itself; case in point, Kalidasa’s ‘Meghdootam’), the traditional Indian love stories would always end with a happily ever after mode. A traditional Indian reader/audience wouldn’t invest his/her energies on a tale that doesn’t end in a happily ever after. Case in point the story of Shakuntala, or the story of Nala-Damayanti. Or Malavika-Agnimitra. In Assam, Usha-Anirudha.

No, not all stories did end happily, the Kannagi-Kovalan episode for example, with the man hanged and the woman, furious, burning down the entire Madurai city.

Anyway, the tragic love stories came to India via the deserts, with the Mughals and the Sufis. Sufism, actually, has a strong connection with these tragic “virgin love stories”, which always must end in death, because, such love, such unbridled passion cannot be consummated in this material world of flesh and sin. Why virgin love stories? Because, in almost all the stories, the love between the pair transcend the body and the desire of the flesh. In most cases, the lovers fall in love before they meet, or talk to each other, and like a virus, it affects them in such a way that they forget everything else.

But, what Sufism has to do with it? Apparently everything. Since this love is more spiritual than physical, it corresponds to the Sufi idea of love, where the devotee loves god as his lover. So, Majnu’s love for Laila is not just a man’s love for a woman, it’s the soul’s desire to meet the god; it corresponds to Meera’s love for Krishna. And, that’s the reason, Laila-Majnu should die. Their love cannot be polluted by the materialism of the world. That’s why Manju(n) is what he is, a madman, an image which can aptly describe a Sufi saint (“Meera rani deewani kahane lagi...”).

The legend of Laila’s love story has shades of Romeo-Juliet in more ways than one. His name was Qais. He was called Majnu, the mad, after he saw the petite Laila; her name means dark beauty, or, like the night. Like in the story of the Shakespearean lovers, Qais and Laila’s families are sworn enemies. Laila’s brother killed Qais’ father and the latter extracted his revenge, the way Romeo killed Paris. And then, you know the story...

But, Laila-Majnu are not alone. There are whole lot of them, unlucky young lovers, who died — Heer-Ranjha, Sohni-Mahiwal — all popularised by Bollywood. There are others — Dhola-Maru, Mirza-Sahiba, Sassi-Punnun, Yusuf-Zulaikha, Heer- Ranjha, Shirin-Farhad. I’m sure I have forgotten some important names. Observe how most of these names begins with the girl’s name first. This is something to ponder over when you think about Romeo-Juliet (It begins with the boy’s name!) (And, look at the ‘Ishaqzaade’ posters, it’s all in Hindi, most of the posters anyway!)

Back to the moot question. Why Romeo-Juliet? Someone told me a long time back: The human civilisation has said nothing new since Mr William Shakespeare. Whatever stories we tell, it’s a variation of what Shakespeare did in his works. Is it true? (The ghost of the Earl of Oxford would be happy — that is, if you have seen the Roland Emmerich film ‘Anonymous’ and trust the very fetching conspiracy theory.)

Tail piece 1: A friend asked what ‘Ishaqzaade’ means. That’s a good question. What does it mean? I say, it means ‘Loverboy’, in a derogatory, disdainful way. ‘Ishaq’ is a rural, broken version of the Urdu ‘Ishq’, which means love. ‘Zaade’ or ‘Zaada’ is a title, a secondary one, like ‘Shah-zaada’, meaning, a prince, and ‘Shaheb-zaade’, meaning a man of importance. It’s all confusing...

Tail piece 2: While thinking about tragic love stories, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack of the Rishi Kapoor-Ranjeeta version of ‘Laila-Majnu’ with music by Madan Mohan & Jaidev with lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi. What songs! I especially like ‘Likh Kar Tera Naam Zameen Par...’ Such passion!

Tail piece 3: Talking about universality of themes, and the same old love stories, here’s something about same songs.

I loved the ‘Rockstar’ song ‘Nadaan Parinday’, when Mohit Chauhan asks the crow to spare his eyes as he still waits to see his beloved (Khahiyoo na do nain mohe/ Piya ke milan ki aas...), recently I heard the same lyrics in a song in a B-Grade Mithun Chakraborty film (I don’t remember the name of the film; but in the song, he’s on the street and all chained up.)

Now, the ‘Raavan’ song, with Gulzar lyrics (Ranjha ranjha na kar Heere jag badnami hoye/ Patti patti jhar jaave par khushboo chup na hoye...), it’s a great image of love. Then, the other day, I head the same lyrics in a Kailash Kher song. I am sure the origin of the lyrics is somewhere else. I’m intrigued.

More on Dhola-Maru here.
More on Heer-Ranjha here.
More on the film Laila Majnu here.
Watch Likh Kar Tera Naam Zameen Par on YouTube.

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