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By invitation: Secret formula behind James Bond’s enduring appeal

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Nov 08, 2015 06:32 IST
Kabir Bedi
Kabir Bedi is an international actor, social commentator
Kabir Bedi is an international actor, social commentator

Girls, guns, gadgets, glamour, and great action. A sexy British secret agent with a licence to kill, who beds women at will, and saves the world from the most dangerous of villains. That’s been the formula of one of the longest continually running franchises in film history, with over $6,000 million earned at the box office worldwide.

The name is Bond, James Bond.

Daniel Craig, Bond’s most recent avatar, will be seen again in Spectre, playing the iconic agent 007 — a role first defined by a magnificent Sean Connery in Dr No in 1962. Since then, much water has flowed down the River Thames. And Bond, too, has evolved with the changing times. From the rugged Sean Connery to questionable experiments with George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton, to the suave and witty Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan, and, for the last three Bond films, the gritty, manly and modern, Daniel Craig. He has said that this may be his last Bond movie. But then again, ‘Never say never’ is also a Bond motto.

“Hopefully, my Bond is not as sexist and misogynistic as [earlier incarnations],” Craig told Esquire recently. “The world has changed”. Agent 007 has fallen in love with the Bond girl only twice since the franchise began. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), he even marries Contessa Tracy di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg), who dies at the end. But nothing really seemed to change in his attitude to life. It wasn’t until 2006 that we saw Bond fall truly, deeply, madly in love with a woman, in Casino Royale (one of the finest Bond films). He even resigned from MI6 to live happily ever after with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). Sadly, even that ended tragically. Keeping modern times in mind, James Bond was given a dimension far greater than his old playboy image. He was shown to be an emotional man.

James Bond (Daniel Craig) resigned from MI6 in Casino Royale (2006) to live happily ever after with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green)

More than the protagonist, the attitude of Bond films itself towards women has become more politically correct. Earlier, sexist names like Pussy Galore, Xenia Onatopp, or Holly Goodhead were quite the vogue. Today, they’re not trying to titillate us with such double entendres anymore. Even Octopussy (1983), in which I played the villain, had a naughty film title. In 1982, after it was filmed in India, the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, asked me the name of my Bond film. I couldn’t bring myself to say it. “Octopus”, I mumbled diplomatically. Some things are best left unsaid.

But there are limits to how much the Bond films can change without destroying their DNA. Nowadays, some ask why 007 can’t be portrayed as a gay man, or be played by a woman. That probably won’t happen. As Roger Moore said, “That’s not what Ian Fleming wrote.” Of course, Fleming’s original novels ran out a long time ago, and many other writers have been called on to continue his iconic character in films. So anything is possible, but some changes are unlikely. Judi Dench may have taken over the very male role of M, Bond’s boss, but the ‘Bond girls’ will always be sexy and beautiful, even as their roles become more textured. The Bond action scenes will always be awesome, and his gadgets ever-intriguing. And I think Bond should remain the alpha male — the man we’ve grown to love. Some things are best left unchanged for the survival of a species.

The iconic agent 007 — a role first defined by a magnificent Sean Connery in Dr No in 1962

Kabir Bedi is an international actor, social commentator, and Oscar voter. He played the villain, Gobinda, in the 1983 Bond film, Octopussy. Bedi has been knighted as Cavaliere by the Italian Republic, and tweets at @iKabirBedi