Laila and Majnu is an old love story originating in Arabia but familiar around the world in the guise of Romeo and Juliet, Heer Ranjha, Shireen Farhad and Tristan Isolde (and many more).

Nai Laila Nia Majnu (1969) is a second-rung production, a comedy that seeks to update the story of star-crossed lovers for the modern era. For an audience raised to place the tale of Laila and Majnu in some distant past, the film’s premise was obviously a fun concept to play around with. Though I’ve not been able to trace a full version of the film on the internet it apparently did well at the box office.

The film’s music was composed/arranged by Tasadduq Hussain, who was classically trained in the Patiala gharana, and whose career was blessed with a number of hit movies (such as Choti Begum and Hamrahi). Hussain was honoured with the President’s Award for his score for Roop Matti Baz Bahadur (1960).

Dance music is a title given to many up-tempo rock ‘n’ roll compositions in a lot of movies. Often times, while they do feature some imagined form of rock ‘n’ roll, most are not that danceable. They are vaguely Western sounding, perhaps with some benign guitar runs and a few tired accordion squeezes. But in this instance, Hussain has hit the nail right on the head and come up with a true stomper.

A frenetic snap fest of snares and bongos kicks off the piece before quickly being pushed aside by a stuttering electric guitar riff that seems to be lifted directly from the most recent Ventures record. A slack-jawed voice sighs “Nai Laila” and several bars later follows up with a shivery “Naya Majnu”.

Still roaring down the line like the Khyber Mail running late, a number of instruments take short solos (sax, drums, a Dwayne Eddy guitar, some early electronic keyboards, sax again) before abandoning all resistance and giving way to the unrelenting electric guitar line.

What always amazes me is how musical directors like Hussain, M Ashraf, Tafo and Nisar Bazmi, whose roots and training were either in the folk or classical music traditions, were able to cotton on to the raw, urgent, sexual drive of American rock ‘n’ roll so easily. A lot of what was marketed as rock music in these films falls flat. But when they got it right, such as in this piece or in Shankar Jaikisan’s Jaan Pehchaan Ho (Gumnaam, 1965) across the border, they really got it.

The tremendous little surf instrumental is nearly flawless. It throbs with the very essence of rock ‘n’ roll: danger, swagger and rebellion. Why it hasn’t been sampled by an enterprising DJ is beyond me.

Nate Rabe’s novel, The Shah of Chicago, is out now from Speaking Tiger.

A version of this story appeared on the blog and has been reproduced here with permission.