Masud Rana: Fifty years and sizzling…

by Towheed Feroze

sizzling.The door of the plane opens, the rays of the soft Italian late afternoon sun fall on the golden hair of the stewardess standing by the disembarkation passage, bidding goodbye to the passengers with the usual nod and a smile.
Her face beams and the smile becomes wider as one gentleman approaches the descending staircase.
Athletic built, with a tanned face, the man is in his late thirties, is wearing a white shirt and a sports jacket with the glasses raised on top of his head.
He smiles back, saying: can I meet you later…..for a candle-lit dinner by the sea front and plenty of Chianti ? ‘Of course,’ comes back the reply laced with a coquettish grin, ‘but I still don’t know your name….’
Giving another wink he replies: ‘Rana…….Masud Rana, staying at the Ritz……’
For countless, well almost all Bangladeshi spy thriller readers of the 70’s and 80’s, the icon was never 007, it was our own fictional hero from the thriller series Masud Rana.
Most of Rana’s adventures may have been based on the plots of James Hadley Chase, Alistair Maclean or Desmond Bagley novels, but honestly speaking, we could not care less. Of course, it’s always good to remember that the first Masud Rana book, Dhongsho Pahar, written by the creator of the character Qazi Anwar Hussain, was not borrowed from anywhere but an original story which dawned on the writer during his own trip to Chittagong and Rangamati.
Immersed in Rana books in the 70’s and 80’s, we never asked why original plots were never attempted later on; surely, if there were less borrowing from international best sellers, Masud Rana would have become even more popular.
My guess is, today’s readers (if there are any left) won’t possibly pick up a Rana novel because in an age when the mantra is to be unique, borrowing from others to make a locally flavoured tale may be regarded as plagiarism.
Perhaps, for a bygone age without internet, the Rana story template was alright. It was the height of the cold war, BTV aired small screen espionage thrillers where the Communism-Capitalist schism was stark and leisure time for most of us meant cozy afternoons, spent at the verandah, reading a Rana novel and, at regular intervals, getting introspective to savour the stillness of simple semi-urban surroundings.
That Dhaka is gone, unless of course one stays in an independent house. Frankly speaking, apartment culture plus the globalised impact on our lives have taken away so many enchanting pleasures of the past.
We have become too visual stimulation oriented now; the power of imagination is dwindling because most don’t have the patience to read and imagine the scenes written in a novel.
But as Masud Rana turns 50, I must say, the lure of the Bangladeshi spy, hasn’t dimmed one single bit among the large forty something groups.
In fact, we become even more nostalgic talking about Rana as he provides a link to life in the first two decades after independence. A life of unhurried living, ideals, fantasy and delicious naivety.
That existence is lost; to state clearly, that world is gone forever: the cold war paranoia is history, hardly anyone uses the word KGB anymore and the genre of the spy thriller is not particularly on top.
Bond is here, but he is more of a fashion/lifestyle endorsement figure.
People don’t watch 007 films for the plots anymore: they want to see what products are going hot at the moment.
Will I ever watch Spectre again? Not unless I am stoned and have two gorgeous women sandwiching me.
Any talk about Masud Rana must bring the conservative social veneer that we had in the past: parents frowned at boys who read Rana though many a disapproving guardian sneakily read the books.
‘What a shame, you read Masud Rana,’ was the oft uttered line by staid school and college teachers. The reason for this unfortunate labelling was Rana’s high flying liberal attitude towards sex and alcohol, as depicted in the book.
Strangely, Bond movies, shown at that time at cinema halls, did not cut the smooching or the intimate scenes and while those were regarded as tantalising, Rana’s forays into feminine anatomy were denounced as downright immoral.
Inherently, the guardians could not accept a Bangladeshi man, albeit a fictional one, having the same fun as his western counterpart.
Need I say, such prohibitions only solidified our resolve to read more of Rana! In a time when Bengali literature was locked within the prosaic realms of mushy romantic heroes, Rana tore down convention, introducing the allure of the bad boy hero who drank, had sex with a variety of women but also managed to save the world.
He popularised the concept of the ‘wicked hero’ – the guy who has taken life as a smorgasbord of pleasures.
In our simple life here in Dhaka, we craved the unorthodox; Rana gave just that! In the 80’s a large number of Bangladeshi students broke the common practice of staying in the country to earn a living and decided to explore a new way of life far away from home, in the USA.
I won’t be incorrect to state that this spirit of trying out a new pasture was implanted in us by Rana: go for it, unless you take risks, life won’t change.
In a few years, these young men, who had already made a living in western countries sent back photos of dreamy holiday spots, classy food, sparkling wines and monstrous cars – a fabulous morsel right from Masud Rana’s own life.
Rana came to cinema in 1975 with Sohel Rana, acting the part to almost perfection. The film, showing the Bangladeshi spy drinking whisky neat, smoking and cavorting with the wife of another man with hedonistic ease, was a shock to celluloid stereotypes.
Here was a film hero who lived life without getting entangled in too many moral constraints. Till today, there hasn’t been a Bangla film hero like Masud Rana as portrayed by Sohel Rana.
It’s regrettable that no one ever dared make another movie; please, I hope contemporary celluloid buffoons won’t try to give us another Rana. It’s always best to have one solid film instead of several silly ones.
But if someone educated walks in, takes the guidance from Qazi Anwar Hussain, employs talented script writers plus a creative film crew then, maybe, we can have another Masud Rana flick on screen.
Question is, who will be Rana?
Anyway, with the hope of such a movie, here’s wishing Masud Rana, MR9, all the best at 50. Even in the age of so many super heroes with stupendous gadgets that opening paragraph from Rana novels sends an unparalleled adrenaline rush:
A daredevil spy of the Bangladesh Counter Intelligence! He travels the globe on secret missions. His life is strange, movements, mysterious. A riveting blend of determination and tenderness. Single! Attracts, but refuses to get entrapped. Wherever he encounters injustice, oppression, and persecution, he fights back. Each step is overshadowed by danger, fear, and the risk of death.
Come! Let us acquaint ourselves with this daring man. In a flash, he will lift us out from the monotony of a mundane life, transferring readers to an enthralling world of fantasy. You are invited!