- 10th October 2006
THINK of Romeo-Juliet
and Laila-Majnu comes to mind. Think of Laila-Majnu
and Heer-Ranjha comes to mind.
The commonality of these are that they are epic love
tragedies and have stood the test of time. Their mass
appeal is such, that today they have become a part
of our common diction.While Romeo and Juliet was set
in Shakespeare's Europe, Heer-Ranjha had its base
closer home, in undivided
Punjab. But unlike Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet,
which is only attributed to the Bard himself, the story
of the love of Heer and Ranjha is attributed to several
authors. The main versions, at last count are three.
But to the average Punjabi, the Sufi poet Waris Shah's
version is the most popular. While Shakespeare composed
his love story towards the end of the 16th century
or the early part of the 17th century, Waris Shah's
Heer-Ranjha was composed in the middle of the 18th
When we look at the original version of Heer which
was composed nearly a 100 years before Waris Shah's
time, it would easily make it to the mid-17th century
which would be much closer to Shakespeare's time. But
apart from being tragic love stories, they have nothing
else in common. The poet, who first penned
the story of Heer-Ranjha, was a man named Damodar and
many scholars consider his version the authentic one
as he had lived during the time of Heer and Ranjha.
Then there was a poet called Maqbal who also wrote,
basing his version on Damodar's and later it was Waris
Shah, whose version became the most popular of the
Waris Shah was born in Jandiala Sher Khan village in
undivided Punjab (now in Pakistan), between, 1720-1735.
His father, Sayyad Gulshan Shah was the village head.
Waris studied in the local madrasa but was greatly
influenced by the Sufi saints of those days. Waris
fell in love with a local village girl bhagpari,
but her family was against the match. So they complained
to Waris's father : who felt Waris should not marry
bhagpari, because being from the same village, she
was, in popular understanding, his sister. So bhagpari
was married off to another person in the village of
Malkahans, which is in the Montgomery district of Pakistan.
followed her there, stayed in the local dargah
and poured his heart out in his Heer. He met up
with his Lady love. Of course, he was forced to
leave the village later as bhagpari's in-laws objected
and he was beaten up and thrown out. Waris returned
to his village and died a heartbroken man.
DIRECTOR Manoj Punj has just made a beautiful film on Waris
Shah, called Ishq Daa Waaris, which means Legacy Of Love.
Noted Punjabi singer and actor, Gurdas Maan essays the lead
role of Waris Shah with Juhi Chawla playing bhagpari. Divya
Dutta, plays a love angle in Waris's life whilst Sushant Singh
plays Juhi's much tormented husband. The film has been beautifully
made and, when I saw it last week, I thought it would be a
landmark film in Punjabi. Later, I realised that I may be
wrong as Waris Shah was the first Punjabi film I had seen.
How could I make such a statement? Even if the film moved
me no end. To confirm my opinion, I spoke to noted screenwriter
and Punjabi scholar Amrik Gill and he confirmed the same.
Coming from Gill, it says a lot. There is not much to speak
of in Punjabi cinema. In 1981,1 saw the greatest hit in the
small Punjab film industry—Chand Pardesi — starring
Raj Babbar, RamaVij, Amrish Puri and Om Puri. Made by Chitrath
and written by Ravindra Peepat and Baldev , it won the national
award that year. Later, there were a few good films like Harpal
Tjwaaa's Laung Da lishkara, but not too many after.
The trend those days, according to Gill, was to do cheap rip
ofis of Pakistani films, which were nothing to write home
about. He said, "The result was stories revolving around
family disputes zamidars and zarneen, made by complete non-professionals.
He added. The last six to seven years have seen a somewhat
modest revival of Punjabi cinema in terms of quality. The
initiative was mainly started by cinematographer Manmohan
Singh and actor Gurdas Maan with films like Jia Yaanu and
Shaheed E Mohabbat . But Waris Shah certainly beats them all"
Till, date Waris Shah must be the most expensive
Punjabi film wtth a budget of approximately Rs 6
crore. Producer Manjeet Maan's film looks classy.
With a good screenplay by Suraj Sanim and wonderful
songs (a number of them sung by Maan himself), the
film will win the hearts of people who are not Punjabis.
Maan and Chawla excel with Dutta and Singh lending
support as they always do. Cbawla especially
looks good. On the age front, she seems to be in
By Nandita Puri