“Take the bloody shot,” barks M through the microphone to Naomie Harris as Bond struggles to keep steady and topple a terrorist off a train in Istanbul. Despite the telescopic sight, instead of the baddie, the bullet hits Bond. Double-O-Seven falls off a cliff into the deep blue sea. That is how the opening credits of Skyfall unspool. Of course, the superhero will survive and bounce back to be born again. Wait a second, did you just hear, “The name is Bourne, Jason Bourne”? Doesn’t the sequence remind you of the opening sequence of The Bourne Identity? In the celebrated trilogy based on Robert Ludlum’s books (The Bourne Identity, Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum), Matt Damon played the super spy who survives after he’s been shot and falls into the sea too.
JB versus JB
The similarities don’t end with the initials and incredible opening sequences. For decades, Ludlum fans have known his books have been flaunting this blurb by Entertainment Weekly: “Reading a Ludlum novel is like watching a Bond film… slickly paced… all consuming.” And much before Hollywood discovered Ludlum’s multi-billion dollar potential, Mario Puzo, the ‘Godfather’ of crime fiction, had anointed him an “ingenious storyteller”.
But not many know that Ludlum himself wrote a special essay for Entertainment Weekly in 1992 (‘James at 30’), where he expressed his admiration for the literary brilliance of Ian Fleming: “Fleming was a contemporary nexus, a vital connection, as well as a necessary contribution, that forced my generation of suspense writers to look deeper into the intrigues – political, geopolitical and international – than we might have before he arrived in print.” Observers surmise the opening of The Bourne Identity was inspired by the ending of You Only Live Twice: on what might happen if Bond forgot who he was. Aamir ‘Ghajini’ Khan, take a bow!
Bonding with Bollywood
Sriram Raghavan’s thriller, Agent Vinod, featuring Saif Ali Khan, had car chases, hot babes and spies a la Bond, and the director whose movies remind many of Vijay Anand’s, has confessed he’d borrowed the style of shooting action sequences from the Bourne series and even shot one in Tangiers, where The Bourne Ultimatum had a fantastic rooftop chase. “The Bourne Identity is one of my favourite thrillers and the Matt Damon films are a great trilogy,” he says.
Raghavan, who earlier paid a tribute to James Hadley Chase in Johnny Gaddaar, confesses he is in love with the spy genre. “My favourites include the Mission Impossible series and the Tom Clancy adaptations in which Harrison Ford plays Jack Ryan.”
But Bond beats them all hollow, says Raghavan. “The Spy Who Loved Me has perhaps the most impressive pre-title sequence when after a ski chase, Bond jumps off a cliff and a parachute unfolds. At the end of the beautiful title song sung by Carly Simon, I had decided I wanted to see it again. The film has the right mix of the realistic and the fantastic with Bond teaming up with a Russian spy to fight a megalomaniac villain. It also introduced the Jaws character. There’s a little homage to that in Skyfall.”
Raghavan is not the only Bollywood filmmaker in awe of Bond. Tigmanshu Dhulia, who directed Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster and the acclaimed Paan Singh Tomar, says Bond is the real deal when it comes to spies. “He was the original super-spy around when I was growing up. Like millions I, too, was in love with 007 for years. But gradually the treatment of stunts in Bond movies was bettered by other franchises such as Fast and Furious and Mission Impossible. To make Bond distinctive, the studios began making the character more psychological, particularly after the arrival of Daniel Craig. Old Bond fans might not like the change. But I love Craig’s portrayal of the spy. He has added a new layer to the character,” feels Dhulia.
Raghavan agrees that Bond films featuring Pierce Brosnan before Craig’s arrival with Casino Royale had become a little outlandish. “Craig gave Bond a certain edge with realism and grit. I love Craig as Bond simply because he doesn’t come across as a mere action hero with glib lines. There is emotion in his face and he can make you feel for the character, however fantastic the situation. He is, perhaps, closest to the Ian Fleming character as in the books,” says Raghavan.
James bond, between the covers
After Ludlum passed away, his estate hired Eric Van Lustbader to continue the series. The Bourne Legacy was followed by The Bourne Betrayal (2007), The Bourne Sanction (2008), The Bourne Deception (2009), The Bourne Objective (2010), The Bourne Dominion (2011) and The Bourne Imperative. Fleming’s estate has been commissioning others to author new novels for long, starting with Kingsley Amis writing under under the pseudonym Robert Markham for Colonel Sun (1968), followed by John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Sebastian Faulks, Jeffrey Deaver and William Boyd.
Daniel Craig, 44, could well continue as 007 three more times before reaching his 50th birthday. Sean Connery played Bond 7 times from age 32 to 53, Roger Moore 7 times from age 46 to 58 and Pierce Brosnan 4 times from age 42 to 49.
In 2002 the Bond and Bourne franchises crossed paths for the first time when Matt Damon made his debut in The Bourne Identity and the same year, Pierce Brosnan had his final outing as Bond in Die Another Day.
From HT Brunch, November 18
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