Leila Majnun, which premiered on 27 March 1934, is most likely the earliest Malay feature film entirely produced in Singapore.
Leila Majnun is a well-known Arabian Persian tragedy of love in the vein of Romeo and Juliet with elements of the Arabian One Thousand and One Nights. The plot centres on two lovers – Leila and Majnun – who are denied this love because of social conventions. Majnun is driven to despair and madness because of this loss, thus living up to his name Majnun, which means “madness” in Arabic.
In the 1930s, Rai Bahadur Seth Hurdutroy Motilal Chamria of Calcutta began distributing Indian films in Singapore. In 1932, he screened a Hindustani version of Leila Majnun, which met with such success that he was inspired to produce of a local version of the film. Leila Majnun was directed by Balden Singh Rajhans, who came from Calcutta to especially work on the film in Singapore. He had already produced two films in India prior to his arrival. After World War II, Rajhans continued shaping the Malay film industry by directing several other significant films.
Several local actors and actresses starred in the film, including Fatima Binti Jasman – a famed singer from record label His Master’s Voice – in the titular role, well-known bangsawan (traditional Malay opera) stage actor Syed Ali Bin Mansoor and Ms Tijah. Many people were drawn to watch the film because of the prior fame of these stars.
Produced at a cost of $5,000, the film had its gala opening at the Marlborough Theatre at 3 pm on 27 March 1934, coinciding with the Hari Raya Haji celebrations. There were regular screenings at 6 pm and 9.15 pm in the evenings. The film was also subsequently shown at the Ritz Geylang.
The production included Arabian and Egyptian dance routines, which were well received. The dialogue was in classical Malay and was much praised, although the film’s technical quality was criticised. In 1962, well-known director B. N. Rao did a remake of this film – spelt a little differently as Laila Majnun.
1. Millet, R. (2006). Singapore cinema (p. 20). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. Call no.: RSING q791.43095957 MIL.
2. Millet, 2006, p. 21; Van der Heide, W. (2002). Malaysian cinema, Asian film: Border crossings and national cultures (p. 126). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. Call no.: RSEA 791.43 VAN.
3. Millet, 2006, p. 21.
4. Leila Majnun, Page 6 Advertisements Column 3. (1932, August 24). Malaya Tribune, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Millet, 2006, p. 21.
6. Hang Tuah Arshad. (2004–2007). Malay movies: Select movie leaflets (p. ii). Kuala Lumpur: Meoral Publishing House. Call no.: RSEA 791.4309595 MAL. [Arshad spells it as Bardar, but Millet spells it as Balden. His name is often shortened to B. S. Rajhans in most sources such as newspapers and magazines.]
7. Millet, 2006, p. 20.
8. Millet, 2006, p. 21.
9. Millet, 2006, p. 21; Malay talkie. (1934, March 31). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Uhde & Uhde, 2010, p. 3.
11. Millet, 2006, p. 21.
12. Mohd Zamberi A. Malek & Aimi Jarr. (2005). Malaysian films: The beginning (p. 77). Ampang, Selangor Darul Ehsan: National Film Development Corporation Malaysia. Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 MOD.
13. Page 7 Advertisements Column 1 (1934, March 27). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 27 Mar 1934, p. 7.
15. Amusements. (1934, June 7). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 27 Mar 1934, p. 7.
17. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 31 Mar 1934, p. 2.
18. Millet, 2006, p. 21.
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.