Even after five years of his demise, Humayun Ahmed was arguably the biggest-selling writer at the Ekushey Book Fair, a testament to his popularity as a storyteller; and to anyone who claims to be a fan of Humayun's novels, Misir Ali is a character as close to their heart as Himu. An eccentric psychologist solving mysteries driven by pure logic, Misir Ali is of the most significant fictional characters in contemporary Bangla literature, and now he is coming to the big screen in what promises to be a power-packed affair.
“Debi”, the first Misir Ali novel, is being adapted into a film by Anam Biswas, featuring a powerhouse cast of Chanchal Chowdhury, Jaya Ahsan, Iresh Zaker, Animesh Aich and Sabnam Faria. While the name Anam Biswas may not sound familiar, fans will probably be assured to know that he is one of the writers of “Aynabaji”, and a creative force to be reckoned with name among industry insiders. The film will be the first production of Jaya Ahsan's production house C te Cinema, and Jaya has already secured a National Film Grant for the project.
“I wanted to begin my film production with a classic, and that is why I chose this” Jaya told The Daily Star. “Genre-specific films are not common in our country, so I wanted to also have a film that adheres to a specific genre. This is going to be a mystery film,” she added. “Anam has adapted the story for the screen and written the dialogues. He is a capable director, and I felt he can do justice to the story.”
Chanchal Chowdhury, high off the critical and massive commercial success of “Aynabaji”, will play Misir Ali in the film. Jaya will be portraying the character of Ranu, with Animesh Aich essaying the role of her husband, Anis. Iresh Zaker plays Ahmed Saber, opposite Sabnam Faria as Nilu. “The casting was the director's decision; I helped him with it,” Jaya added.
Anam Biswas remains cautiously excited about the project. “We have only done the screenplay so far, I don't know where this film will eventually end up taking us. That will be a journey that the actors and the whole team take together, and we reach somewhere good,” he told The Daily Star. “Millions of people have read Misir Ali, and they all have their own mental images of the character. That is the critical part. We will of course have our own interpretation. We don't have too many iconic characters in our contemporary literature, and I feel like we need them … maybe a 'heroic' character. So that is something we will be trying. Now, the characters and the story will come out through the actors. So that also remains to be seen how that takes shape.”
About the casting choices, Anam shared a core principle that he followed. “I tried to find actors who have the essence of the characters in them. It's not easy to find actors who perfectly match the characters. You cannot get characterizations like Ben Kingsley as Gandhi (referring to Richard Attenborough's 1982 biopic 'Gandhi' that won Oscars for Attenborough and Kingsley, as well as Best Picture), but we tried to find actors who resonate the characters.”
Chanchal Chowdhury, meanwhile, says it is a huge challenge to be taking on such an assignment. “After the success of 'Aynabaji', I initially did not want to do any films unless it's an exceptional work. I played six characters in that film, and those images are still in people's minds, so I wanted to take a hiatus from the big screen until those images sort of faded. But when I was offered this role, it was hard to pass on, because it is such an iconic character, and if you let go of something like this you don't know when you will get something like this again. I had read 'Debi' and its sequel 'Nishithini' multiple times but it was a long time ago. Misir Ali is one of my most favourite fictional characters. So I took my time, but I could not say no to such an exciting opportunity as an actor. And now that I have, it is a challenge and also a bit of a pressure, for two reasons: firstly because it is the character of Misir Ali, and also because it is my follow-up to 'Aynabaji'. So I am really looking forward to it.”
The film is ready to go on floors later this month, but Jaya doesn't have a release date in mind. “This is the first film for my production house, and I don't want to plan too far ahead. But I hope to finish the filming in one lot, maybe with a break,” she informed.
There have been previous adaptations of Misir Ali on TV and theatre, though. Theatre troupe Bahubachan adapted “Debi” for a stage play in 1994, and then again in 2008. The first television appearance of Misir Ali was with “Onnobhubon”, in which Abul Hayat played the character. Animesh Aich, who is playing a major role in this film, had directed two TV plays based on Misir Ali novels – “Brihonnola” and “Nishad” for ntv, in which Shatabdi Wadud and Shahriar Shubho played the character.