Iqbal Bano sings one of the best tunes in a superb soundtrack by Safdar Hussain.
Ishq-e-Laila, one of the biggest hits of 1957, was a retelling of the ancient Arabian/Persian folk tale of Laila and Majnun. Traditional tragic love stories were producer Jagdish Anand’s long suit. His first, and indeed Pakistan’s first golden jubilee film, was 1954’s Sassi, which told the centuries-old story of star-crossed lovers Sassi and Pannun. The following year’s Sohni failed to click, but Heer (1955), a dramatisation of Heer Ranjha, probably the most popular South Asian folk love tale, was a massive hit.
The story of Laila and Majnun has its roots in pre-Islamic Arabia, but was really popularised by Persian poet Nizami, who is credited with giving the story complex and multidimensional characters, a plot and a narrative. From Turkey to Indonesia, versions of the story have been a part of popular culture for centuries. India’s innovation to the story is the claim that Laila and Majnun are buried in Binjaur in Rajasthan, where tombs and a shrine mark their love to this day.
In the world of rock ‘n’ roll, Eric Clapton’s iconic album Derek and the Dominos included two songs, Layla and I am Yours, which drew their inspiration from Nizami’s beloved 12th century version of the story.
Given the poor reception most releases received in the early days of the Pakistani film industry, it is perhaps not surprising that Anand struck gold with Sassi, Heer and Ishq-e- Laila. These were familiar stories that didn’t require audiences to stretch their imaginations to absorb new social or technological ideas. For most cinema-goers, these were stories they had grown up with and possibly seen performed by travelling theatre troupes. To see the characters come alive with natural human movements and feeling on a big screen would have been magical.
One of the many pleasures of Ishq-e-Laila is that we get to see the First Couple of Pakistani cinema together. Santosh Kumar plays Qais the “Majnun”, driven mad by his burning love for Laila (Sabiha Khanum), the volatile Bedouin chief’s ravishing daughter. Kumar and Khanum had a chemistry that was not only evident in the characters they played but also extended off the sets. In 1958, they were married during the shooting of Anand’s Hasrat, another major hit for Pakistan’s only Hindu producer.
The film’s status as a classic is in no small part due to its lavish soundtrack. There are movies with lots of songs, and then there is Ishq-e-Laila. Music director Safdar Hussain, originally from Lucknow, worked on many of Anand’s films. He managed to come up with 19, yes 19, individual melodies for the beautiful lyrics of Qateel Shifai, who over time would develop into one of Pakistan’s most popular and respected lyricists. Many of the songs were hits of the day and are well-loved even today.
Sitaraon Tum To So Jao is sung by Iqbal Bano. Like all the other participants in this film, the woman many consider to be the best female ghazal singer Pakistan has ever produced was at the beginning of her career. She had emigrated to Pakistan from Delhi just five years earlier, and had only recently come to the attention of the music world when she scored a big hit with Ulfat ki Nai Manzil ko Chala ( Qatil, 1955). Bano had her first official ghazal recital in the same year as she sang in Ishq-e-Laila. Though the diva sang in more than 70 films as her career developed, she focused almost entirely on non-film ghazal work.
Even though Iqbal Bano “The Legend” was yet to emerge, her great ability to sing is evident in the short but lovely Sitaraon Tum To So Jao. Laila is pining for Qais, whom she has been prevented from meeting. Like the young Sabiha on screen, Bano’s youthful voice matches the need of the scene perfectly. Her voice is strong and perhaps just a little raw, but you can also detect subtle signs of the iconic warble that endeared her to millions of fans across the world.
Nate Rabe’s novel, The Shah of Chicago, has been published by Speaking Tiger.
A version of this story appeared on the blog and has been reproduced here with permission.
The internet is an amazing space where you can watch a donkey playing football while simultaneously looking up whether the mole on your elbow is a symptom of a terminal diseases. It’s as busy as it’s big with at least 2.96 billion pages in the indexed web and over 40,000 Google search queries processed every second. If you have access to this vast expanse of information through your mobile, then you’re probably on something known as a data plan.
However, data plans or data packs are a lot like prescription pills. You need to go through a barrage of perplexing words to understand what they really do. Not to mention the call from the telecom company rattling on at 400 words per minute about a life-changing data pack which is as undecipherable as reading a doctor’s handwriting on the prescription. On top of it all, most data packs expect you to solve complex algorithms on permutations to figure out which one is the right one.
Even the most sophisticated and evolved beings of the digital era would agree that choosing a data pack is a lot like getting stuck on a seesaw, struggling to find the right balance between getting the most out of your data and not paying for more than you need. Running out of data is frustrating, but losing the data that you paid for but couldn’t use during a busy month is outright infuriating. Shouldn’t your unused data be rolled over to the next month?
You peruse the advice available online on how to go about choosing the right data pack, most of which talks about understanding your own data usage. Armed with wisdom, you escape to your mind palace, Sherlock style, and review your access to Wifi zones, the size of the websites you regularly visit, the number of emails you send and receive, even the number of cat videos you watch. You somehow manage to figure out your daily usage which you multiply by 30 and there it is. All you need to do now is find the appropriate data pack.
Promptly ignoring the above calculations, you fall for unlimited data plans with an “all you can eat” buffet style data offering. You immediately text a code to the telecom company to activate this portal to unlimited video calls, selfies, instastories, snapchats – sky is the limit. You tell all your friends and colleagues about the genius new plan you have and how you’ve been watching funny sloth videos on YouTube all day, well, because you CAN!
Alas, after a day of reign, you realise that your phone has run out of data. Anyone who has suffered the terms and conditions of unlimited data packs knows the importance of reading the fine print before committing yourself to one.

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