A Bold Foray Into ‘Bangla-Futurism’

A review of MR-9: Do or Die

By MWB Desk

Finally, the much-anticipated Masud Rana movie is here, and oh boy, it does not disappoint. Like a familiar tale one has heard before but keeps coming back to, the Masud Rana book series does not veer off the spy action thriller template, and in this big screen offering which has been a long time coming, it delivers just about all the elements it has promised. 

Let us face it: in terms of story, dialogue, or narrative pacing, there is no need for a Masud Rana film to reinvent the wheel. The creator of the character, the legendary Qazi Anwar Hussain has himself said that the Bangladesh superagent was modelled after James Bond, and so spotting the parallels is part of the fun. Audiences will go into MR-9 wanting a dose of action, archetypal villains with plans of world domination, and a supremely competent Bangladeshi BCI agent, and in that respect, the film is just what it needs to be – it sometimes cheesy, sometimes funny, but always thrilling, always a good time. 

There are some 470 books in the Masud Rana canon (some sources claim the number to be as high as 550), and this movie version is based on the novel Dhongsho Pahar. Without giving too much away, it is safe to say that there is a matter of international urgency, for which the CIA reaches out to Masud Rana. “Only the CIA and the BCI know about this,” the American officer says to the Bangladeshis being briefed, that is, Masud Rana and his boss. And so MR-9 goes on a mission to uncover the truth behind business magnate Roman Ross, played by Hollywood veteran Frank Grillo. Roman Ross always has a brother in the picture, who seems to not do much other than get frequent massages and give Roman hostile glares, but maybe there is more than meets the eye in the relationship. On the surface, Roman Ross is changing the world for the better, promising to eliminate disability forever (you heard that right! He plans to eliminate all disability, which means there will no longer be any blind people or people in wheelchairs anymore) and MR-9 is suspicious. He is joined in his mission by Devi, played by Indian actress Sakshi Pradhan. Pradhan here essentially fills the role of the “Bond girl,” and hits all the necessary marks. The cast also boasts the dazzling Jessia Islam, who won Miss Bangladesh back in 2017, Miss Universe Bangladesh runner-up Alisha Islam, and Michael Jai White, who many viewers may recognize from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, where he plays a frustrated gangster who tries to take a bounty out on the Joker.

In the titular role of course is Abm Sumon. Sumon is a fine choice for the unflappable Masud Rana. He certainly has the physique for it, as the lingering camera makes obvious through numerous shots of the star without his shirt. Very little is betrayed by way of facial expression, but perhaps that is an accurate result of Rana’s childhood trauma rather than a weakness in range – here is a man who is emotionally closed up, and like his inspiration James Bond, does not spend time talking about his feelings or feeling sorry for himself. His skills are at an awe-inspiring level, and that is plausibly communicated by Sumon. No doubt, there will be detractors. Masud Rana is, after all, a beloved character, and some backlash is always there when such a character is cast. Any actor who has been cast as James Bond, Superman, or Batman can testify to that. But eventually, if the job is well done, the public comes around to accepting the actor as the embodiment of the character. Sumon, no doubt, will be embraced by the broader public in time. 

This is not the first time Masud Rana has been dramatized. Way back in 1974, a feature film was made, starring Sohel Rana and featuring Kabori. In 1994, a TV drama was made which was broadcast on BTV. Noble, at the time the hottest model on the scene, was cast as Masud Rana, and Bipasha Hayat was also there. It made some waves upon initial broadcast at the time, with BTV being the only source of entertainment for most people, but then it was quickly forgotten. 

Clearly, the new incarnation of Masud Rana on the big screen has franchise ambitions. In a landscape saturated with action movies that churn out formula, no doubt MR-9 is a brave venture that is bound to be an uphill climb, especially if it has ambitions of performing well in the world market and not just to nostalgia-seeking Bangladeshis. It is admirable to see just how far Bangladeshi action films have come, but at the same time, it must be realized that the bar is always being raised. James Bond movies, the Fast and Furious franchise, Mission: Impossible, and many other action franchises deliver all the elements that action audiences crave. How does MR-9 fare, and will it be able to compete? The impressive first film shows promise. Certainly, the producers potentially have a veritable ocean of material on their hands, so they will never run out of stories if the franchise does manage take flight. Viewers of a certain age will be buying tickets and lining up to relive their youthful days of reading Masud Rana, perhaps a little guiltily in their childhood, away from the prying eyes of judgmental adults. 

But what about the new generation, and what about the cohorts that were never exposed to Sheba Prokashoni? That market may be tougher to break into. The fact is, Masud Rana exposed a generation of Bangladeshis to certain subject matter that were not part of mainstream discourse. There was drinking and parties, glamorous femme fatales, global conspiracies and vast sums of money, action scenes which quickened the pulse. For younger generations, these thrills have been found elsewhere. What Masud Rana does very well though, as opposed to those other media, is allow us to indulge in the pleasant fantasy that Bangladeshi spy agencies, too, can change the world, and save it from the bad guys. 

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