Faizul Khan Tanim interviews Abul Kalam Azad, chairman and managing director of Azad Products pvt ltd, and relives the actual moments of the scenes depicted in the latest Banglalink ad to hit the television Gone are the days of advertisements with product-specific features only. The viewers are now welcoming creative television commercials sporting social messages, the company’s goodwill gestures and even depicting real life stories. And this one, very imaginatively visualises a one minute forty second true story.

The latest rendition of Banglalink’s Din Badaler Cheshta, produced by Banglalink and Cogito Marketing Solutions and directed by Amitabh Reza essentially narrates the story of Abul Kalam Azad, chairman and managing director of Azad Products Pvt Ltd, who dreamt his dreams, struggled hard, and achieved them. Although, like other advertisements, it aims at cashing in on melodrama, there is no denying that owing to the nature of the story and the actual events having taken place, it carries a spirit of great achievement.

The commercial summarily depicts Azad’s struggle from a poor village youth to what he is today. All the sets have been minutely constructed – the bus, brandings, newspaper, horse rides and even the beautiful belles in their 70’s fashion – bringing the feel of that time to life. At one stage, when the narrator voices – herey jabo boley toh shopno dekhini – one feels a strong hair-raising adrenalin rush. The advertisement opens with monochrome visual - Azad’s childhood endeavour of trading coconuts from one village to another.

‘It was actually a real life incident’, says Azad, sitting for an interview with New Age. ‘While transporting those fruits in a small boat, a bigger boat hit us and our boat capsized leaving all the fruits floating. And while passengers from passer-by boats actually tried to take them, I and my cousin Hassan were trying our best to save them. ’ For television viewers, the advertisement was also the first time that a non-television personality had come to the fore so visibly with his life story.

‘I was not at all interested to do any commercial at first,’ says Azad, ‘but when people from Banglalink, Razeeb from Cogito and Amitabh Reza visited me, they showed me their earlier advertisements and I felt they carried strong messages. ’ ‘I thought my story may inspire millions of educated unemployed youth of the country to change their lives’. Azad continues with his life: ‘It was initially a hobby but after completing school, doing various kinds of trade turned out to be a passion. Upon completing college, I came to Dhaka and was determined to start my own business.

I had nowhere to live and did not have any idea on how to start my own business. ’ Azad soon became a lodging tutor just to earn a living and at the same time regularly visited spots like Baitul Mukarram mosque area, New Market, Parliament House, Sadarghat and more. One fine day, Azad saw a vendor selling fancy scales (rulers) with pictures of the then popular boxer Muhammad Ali. ‘His target customers were children and students, and his presentation was so good that passerby kids had to buy them.

Observing him for quite a few days, I then asked him whether he feels ashamed ferrying and selling scales. “I am a Dhaka University student and in need of money. At least, I’m not begging” he told me. ’ ‘That was it for me, I gained immense respect for him and thought if I could earn Tk 30 to 40 a day, it would be an amazing start,’ he says. As is depicted in the commercial, one day Azad noticed that hawkers sold posters and it looked to be quite profitable work. He accumulated some money and bought posters from the hawkers and started my own business.

‘As much as I remember, the year was 1978 and I sat in front of the north gate, also known as the Mohammedan gate, of the stadium and sold posters of action characters like Incredible Hulk, Six Million Dollar Man, Lee Majors, Bionic Woman and more. ’ He developed an altogether different business strategy of selling two posters for Tk 25 and three posters for Tk 50. ‘And then there was that day when the other poster seller came, vandalized my shop and ousted me from the spot with the help of police and hired goons as I was giving a better bargain than him’, remembers Azad with a sigh.

However, he did not give up and continued his business with a fresh start. Slowly, fate shone upon him as one day he noticed that people cut out pictures of stars from newspapers and pasted them on walls. He approached Tarokalok (a popular film magazine at the time) and asked for copies of photos that used to appear during star previews. He wanted to sell posters by printing those photos as posters, view cards and offered to share revenue with the magazine. He realised that if posters of foreign stars sell, why not stars from our own country.

‘My highest selling posters and cards would be that of the Afzal-Shuborna duo, drama serial Shokal Shondha acclaimed pair Pijush-Afroza and of hero Razzak and his family. The business became a huge success and it only grew after that’, added Azad humbly. Today Abul Kalam Azad is heading large corporations like Azad Printing and Packaging, Grand Azad Hotel, A to Z computers and Education, Scan builders and more. Along with maintaining growth of his business and ventures, he has involved himself in various social activities like saluting mothers who have given birth to famous people. Azad has not forgotten his roots.

He still remembers his hard days as he stands proudly in front of his establishments, ready to share his story, without any embarrassment, to help inspire others to do the same. Interestingly, despite being a mobile connection commercial, not once does the one minute 40 second reel, refer to any mobile phones. ‘The mobile phone has not been shown here intentionally – the objective is to reinforce the platform for the corporate brand and create a strong link between ‘making a difference’ and Banglalink,’ says Irum Iqbal, PR and Communication Manager of the marketing department of Banglalink.

‘It is intended that irrespective of situation or characters, people should associate Banglalink with ‘making a difference’ and vice versa. In addition to the emotional link, we want to inspire people to never lose hope and move ahead to make a difference, jekhanei achhe din badal er cheshta shekhanei achhe Banglalink. ’ Azad says, ‘I want to pass a message to the young generation. Please do not watch this commercial and think of doing business of posters and postcards. Think of a business from this era. If you want to succeed, the business thoughts need to be contemporary as well. ’