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MIDDAY - 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 century.
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 three.
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.

Waris 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.


Landmark film

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
Singh 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"

Very expensive

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 able support as they always do. Cbawla especially looks good. On the age front, she seems to be in reverse gear.

By Nandita Puri

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