Laila Majnu — an age-old love story turned into a stunning musical in the walled city of Lahore

Laila Majnu — an age-old love story turned into a stunning musical in the walled city of Lahore

From its set design to the performances, Laila Majnu set the bar astronomically high for theatre performances in the city.
11 Mar, 2024

For someone who enjoys theatre, the poster of The Colony’s latest show, Laila Majnu was enticing enough to purchase tickets instantly. An age-old tale turned into a musical, a blend of great storytelling and dance performances at the grand Haveli Barood Khana in old Lahore — I knew it was going to be good, but little did I know what a stellar performance I was in for.

A classic saga, Laila Majnu is a tale of two childhood lovers, Qays and Laila, from Arabia, who aren’t allowed to unite due to socio-economic differences. When Laila is married off to someone else due to family pressure, Qays becomes obsessed with her and people start calling him Majnu, loosely translated as “crazy”. In his obsession with Laila, Qays devotes himself to writing verses about his profound love for her.

The live performance did absolute justice to the classic tale, engrossing the audience till the last second, giving them an experience to remember. From the brilliant narration by Hashim Ali to the stellar direction, choreography and acting by Saad Sheikh, one of the two founders of The Colony, everything about the performance was par excellence. The lead actors — Saad as Majnu and Wajiha Wasti as Laila — were compelling and masters of their craft. Their dance, acting, emotions and chemistry quite literally set the stage on fire. For a few seconds, one could easily forget that it’s a show and not a real story unfolding in front of one’s eyes! That’s how convincing both of them were.

Protagonists are usually great performers but what made Laila Majnu so remarkable and the brilliant experience that it ended up being was the fact that the entire cast was in sync and did a great job. Everything from the score to the music, from the dances to the colours and lighting was perfect!

While all these factors had a great role to play in making the performance what it was, Hashim Ali’s narration breathed so much life into it. He was absolutely brilliant; his delivery, the tone, the pauses, the hold over language and craft both — there are no words that could do justice to appreciating his craft both in set design (since he was the mastermind behind that) and the narration on stage.

The Colony could also not have chosen a better venue for the show — Haveli Barood Khana at the Lahore Fort made the entire experience even more magical. From having guests picked up in rickshaws to be dropped at the doorstep, to the majestic Badshahi Mosque standing tall in all its glory in the background, the fort really put all traditional theatres to shame.

Perhaps the only areas of improvement, which can easily be let go given this was put together in a very short time, were the floral decorations — real flowers, although heavy on the pocket, would have given a grander feel. I was expecting more from the outfits when I found out Fahd Hussayn was the mastermind behind them — the fittings could have a been a lot better, but this is me comparing a local play put together in 14 days to a Broadway musical.

In all other ways, Laila Majnu really did give Broadway and West End musicals a run for their money.

Saad Sheikh, the mastermind behind Laila Majnu told Images that a few years ago, he was exposed to the ideas of Sufism and chakras and the unimaginable power the universe has over your life and, eventually, the seven stages of Sufi Ishq (love/passion).

“I wanted to depict those ideologies in a story and, while roaming around in a library in Paris, I came across the poem of Nizami on Laila Majnu. Then [there was the] movie Laila Majnu by Imtiaz Ali, which is quite an overwhelming movie but quite an underdog that I thought never received the love it deserved,” he said. “As cliché and conventional the narrative of Laila Majnu may be, I fell in love with all adaptations I came across, whether they were from Tehran, or Punjab or Kashmir, and the idea of Sufi Ishq was quite fitting in this narrative, hence I decided to go ahead with this production.”

What stunned me the most during my conversation with him was that the show was put together in only two weeks! “It was a wonder how 48 performers got together. We worked endlessly for two weeks, believe it or not, the show was put together in two weeks. I reached out to my producer who is also my co-founder at The Colony, Salman Jahangir, and told him I want to go with this idea,” he explained.

Sheikh mentioned that this specific venue was chosen because he wanted the balcony settings over a stage which perhaps no other venue could have offered better. However, with a venue like Barood Khana came a whole new set of challenges.

“Since we were in the historical quarters of the city, we couldn’t put up a tangible set, so for the first time in Pakistan, a theatrical production had digital mapping done [in place of] a set design. We got Abbas Murad to design the digital sets, who worked with the designs of Delhi gate and Shahi Mohalla and then digitally mapped it on the walls of Barood Khana,” he said.

The collective effort of 100 people, including performers and backstage staff who worked tirelessly, day and night, for 14 days, helped put together the epic Laila Majnu, a phenomenal performance that raised the bar for live performance and theatre to astronomical heights in Lahore.

The show is going to tour around Pakistan and the team plans to stay out of traditional auditoriums and keep hosting its shows at iconic historical sites. All I can say is, keep a track because you don’t want to miss this one!

All photos by Faraz Aamer Khan


Minaz Mar 11, 2024 06:03pm
Where can I buy the tickets. And till when is it being performed in Lahore.
Sara Mar 11, 2024 06:33pm
A very generous review. The venue was spectacular without a doubt, but the most rehearsed aspect was lighting - the rest looked hurriedly cobbled together. The script was flawed, the movements often unsynchronized. If this is the bar then theatre in Lahore doesn't have to do much.
Ehsan Mar 11, 2024 06:44pm
What an amazing endeavor there are so many more stories to be told about undaroon Lahore as well
Taj Ahmad Mar 11, 2024 09:00pm
Lahore is one of the most famous city in films productions, this city also called Lollywood of Pakistan. 1950 to 1990 was the best year in films production of Pakistan. Actor Waheed Murad, Actress Shamim Ara, Singer Ahmad Rushdi and Noor Jahan were top names among others talented films productions stars.
Balbir Singh Khattar Mar 12, 2024 08:07am
When are you bringing your show to Mumbai, India?
Syed Hasni Mar 12, 2024 01:43pm
ﯿﺲ ﺟﻨﮕﻞ ﻣﯿﮟ ﺍﮐﯿﻼ ﮨﮯ ﻣﺠﮭﮯ ﺟﺎﻧﮯ ﺩﻭ ﺧﻮﺏ ﮔﺬﺭﮮ ﮔﯽ ﺟﻮ ﻣﻞ ﺑﯿﭩﮭﯿﮟ ﮔﮯ ﺩﯾﻮﺍﻧﮯ ﺩﻭ Let’s meet in the walled city of Lahore love birds!
M. Emad Mar 12, 2024 06:19pm
'Laila Majnu' is a 7th-century Folktales.
Laila Mar 12, 2024 06:57pm
Love this. Looking forward to seeing this. I don't get to go out often. So this will be a rare opportunity. We need more of such artistic efforts. And I love that my city is chosen and the historical location is just cherry on top. If anybody want to join me to watch Laila Majnu, I would be interested going as a group.
Syed Hasni Mar 13, 2024 03:43pm
@Balbir Singh Khattar O lagdi Lahore di aa Jis hisaab naa’ hansdi aa O lagdi Punjab di aa Jis hisaab naa’ takdi aa I totally agree that there should be a collaboration between India and Pakistan on this show, I highly recommend Guru Randhawa, an A Class artist to be part of it. Would love to watch it anywhere in the world with that collaboration!