What qualities does an actor need in playing the iconic spy?
The buzz in the cine-world is that noted adventure espionage thriller writer, Qazi Anwar Hussain, has given permission to have the first three books from his Masud Rana thriller series to be made into movies by established movie producing company Jaaz Multimedia. Of the three books, the first two, Dhongsho Pahar and Bharat Natyam are original works, while the third one, Shornomrigo, is loosely based on two Bond novels.
Our answer to the spy culture of the 60s
Rana may be our own answer to 007, but there’s no denying that when the spy series first emerged in 1966 to carve out a new radical Bengali protagonist, the worlds of fiction and films were heavily influenced by the openness of the counter-culture movement and the paranoia of the cold war.
In reality, there was a détente between the US and the USSR after the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world close to Armageddon. However, in popular culture, the mutual denunciation went on unabated -- with the heady dose of sexuality of the swinging 60s thrown in for added cachet.
Decadent cried the socialists while referring to the exuberant spy genre both in film and on TV, but the West couldn’t care less -- all over Europe, the spy-thriller mania took over with 007 spin-offs becoming ubiquitous.
Rana appeared with the Bond spin-off in a traditional society, where heroes never drank alcohol or slept with a woman before marriage. No wonder there was social outrage as conservatives lambasted the books terming them unconscionable.
A court case also followed, but Rana got a reprieve. The books in the early years had a caveat: “Shudhu matro prapto boyoshkoder jonno” (it was only for adults).
Following the 1974 template
Sohel Rana portrayed the protagonist with commendable precision in the 1973 movie -- he appeared cold, calculating, charming, and, when needed, ruthless.
It was extremely courageous for Sohel Rana to make his movie debut with a character towards which society had such an ambivalent attitude.
However, there was a social embargo on Rana books -- many guardians did not approve of some explicit passages in the thrillers. To be honest, the warning that they should only be read by adults only worked as an added attraction.
Be that as it may, we don’t live in such prudish times anymore. With the film rights already with Jaaz, the task is to find the right lead. From adverts, we see there is a drive to hold a competition to determine who will play Rana. Sounds promising, but the judges will play a major role in the selection.
Sorry for being blunt, but, if a spy agent who shares similarities with Bond has to be chosen, then the judges need to be readers of spy thrillers, especially in English. It would be a blunder to have some well-known actor sitting on the judge’s seat wearing a shirt with flower motifs with little or no idea about thriller writers such as Ian Fleming, Frederick Forsyth, or John le Carre.
If that is done, then say goodbye to expecting a polished Masud Rana.
Someone who has done frivolous things in typical commercial films or has an ambiguous academic past shouldn’t be called to judge.
Qazi Anwar Hussain may be asked to be present, or at least send a representative. A noted literary personality has to be there along with Sohel Rana, and, a spy movie aficionado with enough knowledge about Bond and Harry Palmer movies.
I would also add in a veteran newspaper editor with enough knowledge about the spy genre to ask the questions in English.
The first of which should be: “Why do you want to be Masud Rana?”
What are we looking for in the actor?
The most important thing to look for is an aura of charm and sophistication. This means, a person fluent in Bengali and English, with an air of finesse about him. The latter is vital -- since Rana roams the world. Though height is important, anyone above 5ft 8 should be considered.
Sohel Rana is about 5ft 6, but, when the 1974 movie was made, the height factor became secondary to his passionate acting. If Tom Cruise can make it as Ethan Hunt, then there’s no reason why someone shorter cannot be chosen.
An attempt on casting a model was made in a TV drama called Prachir Periye in 1994 (based on Pishach Dwip) with an abysmal result and awful acting.
But then, George Lazenby, who played 007 in one film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, had no acting experience either. He was a model, but had the chutzpah to walk into the studio and get noticed.
Lazenby eventually got the role, retaining a cult following.
Education should be a factor for choosing the right person. If someone wants to play Bond, then he too will have to have read several spy books, in English and in Bengali.
In conclusion, someone well-educated, fluent in English, with an athletic build, a reading habit, plus an innate sense of understated style are absolute requirements -- the search is for a person who is debonair.
Has anyone thought of Sydney-based Bangladeshi actor Taskeen Rahman, who played the villain in Dhaka Attack?
He seems to fit all the qualities mentioned above, and I am sure he also knows what constitutes a Vesper Martini.
Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.