The name’s Rana, Masud Rana
Towheed Feroze

Masud Rana was an undeniable cultural icon of the 70s and 80s

  • Bangladesh too had its own womanising, gun-toting spy 
    Photo- BIGSTOCK

All film enthusiasts have one film in their radars of late: The new Bond flick, Spectre. It’s not an exaggeration that 007 has now placed himself as an indestructible film icon with, of course, the Union Jack firmly plastered over him.

Everything that is British must also feature the super spy -- unquestionably an epitome of suavity that has come to represent the best of Britain.

“Come to Britain because that’s where 007 resides” is a tagline for a slick tourism advert!

Yet, just about 25 years ago, 007 faced near extinction. The films became more like big budget comedies with very few twists. Come to think of it, back in the mid 80s, rumours spread that the lady-killer spy will finally call it a day, take the last sip of the vodka martini and put up the Aston Martin for auction.

A similar hero called Masud Rana, but moulded very much in the Bengali tradition, was the national fictional hero in 1985, going super strong.

Bond survived, changed the format, introduced darker shades to the role and, in 2015, he is not the poster boy hero but a tormented soul fighting with too many inner demons.

Our man James adapted, became more plausible; Rana, on the other hand, is a dimmed flicker from the 80s.

Does anyone read the Rana novels anymore? Maybe aiming to reach the heights of 007 with the global appeal would have been too ambitious, but Masud Rana could also have been a lasting paperback-plus-movie icon locally if there had been efforts to maintain a celluloid presence supported by much publicised book launches.

I hear James Bond’s latest book, Trigger Mortis, which came out earlier this year, maintains the readership base, though reading as a whole has dwindled globally.

As for Bangladesh, you don’t see feverish excitement in the middle class circles for the next Rana book anymore.

But believe this, in the mid 70s and 80s, Masud Rana book sales topped all other published materials, either local or foreign.

Rana is perhaps the first adventure novel that was aimed at readers above the age of 18, meaning it contained explicit material.

Initially, there was uproar in a society which loved to flaunt the puritanical label. Kazi Anwar Hossain, the writer, was taken to court, leading to a case which garnered huge publicity, working to actually escalate the character’s popularity.

I find similarity to the 007 litigation involving the Thunderball plot.

Rana was given the verdict to go on, though most parents firmly held the belief that such adult stuff would morally corrupt young readers.

Society, used to effeminate heroes with Victorian ideals, could not digest a whiskey sipping, gun-carrying hero with a penchant for one-night stands.  

For many, if not most, households, the Rana novel was banned. But then, forbidden materials only inflate the curiosity and ingenious ploys were adopted to smuggle books into homes. Some tore off the main covers, attaching innocuous looking fronts taken from other books, whereas others mixed the books with the academic materials which were always covered with an old calendar (known as molat).

Back then, a new book was a precious item, and be it academic or fiction, the norm was to use calendar pages from the previous year to put a protecting folder around the book so they could either be sold at a later date or, for academic ones, passed on to the next sibling or relative needing them.

Those were times of economic stringency. Most middle class people lived on a budget. From that tight expenditure, the luxury was a Masud Rana book.

Teachers loathed students who read Rana, using the tone of admonition in the classroom to say: Those who read Rana will go down the drains.

Thankfully, wherever I am, it’s not the sewerage lines!

I remember one getting caught with Hello Sohana, one from the series, at school, and a letter was promptly sent home cautioning the guardians. It read: “We are deeply concerned that a young boy has taken to reading abominable tales of a reprobate; please take firm action to counter this habit.”

One teacher was outraged when one from our class had the audacity to say: I want to be like Rana!

The guy later on went on to become a police officer, not too different from his teenage idol working for the fictitious Bangladesh Counter intelligence. The final fun was when he went back to see the retired teacher saying: “Sir, I am that student who wanted to be like Rana.”

It’s unfortunate that this cultural phenomenon is almost lost from society. Rana was adapted into a highly successful eponymous film in 1975 (available on YouTube) for which Kazi Anwar Hossain won the Best Script prize.

Despite the rage of the 70s and 80s, the celluloid/fiction fervour died out.

With the advent of techno-driven entertainment, reading books is almost non-existent, and our hero from our adolescent days is a faded memory.

It’s natural that, with social evolution, new fads will take over, but unless we manage to sustain some cultural traits of the past, we won’t have any nostalgic link to hang on to.

From a neutral angle, Bond, despite the metamorphosis with Daniel Craig, remains a fantasy-dominated concept.

However, with more than 50 years in the market, it’s now resolutely recognised as an institution: A British one with unquestionable global connotations.

Unfortunately, we could not make Masud Rana a vital part of our ongoing and diverse entertainment canvas; I am sure those adults who so vehemently opposed the Bangladeshi version of 007 would have relaxed their stance now if Rana had survived and secured a social spot.

Oh well, he is still our hero, inexorably intertwined with lazy afternoons, filled with coloured fantasies, incorporating characters like Sohana, Guilty Mia, Dr Kabir Chowdhury, and Major Rahat. 

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Towheed Feroze

Towheed Feroze is a journalist currently working in the development sector.