Bangladeshis rarely get to cheer their heroes, but when they do they are euphoric. They came out in droves to celebrate the nation’s first ever qualification for the cricket World Cup, and for some memorable wins since then. But wins have been few and far between. There were other celebrities and celebrations – the Nobel Prize for the Grameen Bank and its founder — but they would hardly match the glitz and glamour bestowed by a ‘would be’ Bangladeshi film or a cricket star.
The country’s film stars, like those of neighbouring countries, barely survive under the mighty shadows of Bollywood stars, and numerous TV serials (mostly dramas) continue to entertain a ‘more urbane’ middle-class. Performers achieve popular following in this genre, but they are yet to be superstars.
Cricketers, saving the exceptional Shakib-al-Hasan ( again, known more for performance than glamour), have been slow to feed a nation hungry for heroes.
Films, with a few exceptions, (yes, there have been some), along with many other productions lacked financial backers or artistic visionaries to bolster them, left to cater for the occasional entertainment needs of the less well-off.
They followed their much bigger, more successful siblings’ scripts, unleashing simple yet consistent tales told in sub-continental cinemas for years: love triumphant, treachery exposed, good overcoming twists and obstacles, sure to triumph. They evoked emotions from an excited crowd: whistles, sometimes almost in unison, at the hero’s entrance, at his smart moves (and comments), inevitably entangling the heroine in his web of love; sighs for the heroine in her dilemmas; applause when a villain is vanquished.
Urged on by this enthusiasm, directors (and producers) made actors perform the roles, giving respite from their immeasurably tough lives. The actors, acquiesced, hardly setting themselves up as heroic models. A few had a following, but they never generated the razzmatazz drawn by a super hero.
But maybe all this is about to change. Ananta Jalil, fondly abbreviated as AJ, unearthed his fourth blockbuster in as many years, Most Welcome 2, in July.
He bears the uniqueness dreamt of by the heroes of yesteryear – making his debut as an actor and producer in his first film Khoj in 2010, with his future wife as the heroine. How many super-heroes have achieved this feat?
A successful entrepreneur with esteemed foreign education ( a business qualification from the UK), he shares some of his fortunes in charitable tasks – he runs orphanages and old peoples’ homes, never shy to promote them.
Like his scripts, his plans are always rosy. He will bring back a decent crowd to the cinemas; he will maintain his figure and won’t allow anyone out of shape (plump) in his movies.(He explained this as the reason why the ‘respectable’ middle class of the country went off local productions). He prefers to perform his own stunts – an inspiration evoked by Tom Cruise, however accidentally. With the grace of the Almighty, he says, he even has plans to make a Bangladeshi incarnation of James Bond movies.
If he does not respond suavely in interviews, his answers are straightforward with the flamboyance of a champion. His short celebrity status has not been without controversy — there was an unsavory episode involving his pronunciation, and many highbrows have written him off as uncouth.
But he seems to be immune to this, arriving in a sea of admirers to premiere his latest film. As they chanted his name, as he struggled out of his racing car swamped by his followers, and as the police made room for him to enter the theatre, spectators marvelled – were they seeing the arrival of a hero, at last?
Irfan Chowdhury is an opinion columnist.