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Back to Beginnings

It is time to ask how long we can keep Mr Bond alive. Time perhaps to give him a decent burial, writes Annie Datta in her regular column From the Varsity.

india Updated: Oct 22, 2005 18:28 IST

A revamped Bond (Daniel Craig) is set to travel back to the beginnings. Next to be filmed is Ian Fleming's first novel Casino Royale. Like a phoenix, raised from his own ashes, James Bond lives on.

It is time to ask the question how long we can keep Mr Bond alive. Time perhaps to give Mr Bond a decent burial. Since he has walked out of context, ought we not confine 007 to a museum? Alternatively, restrict the superhero to a videogame or reduce him to a comic strip?

Casino Royale, when first filmed, was cast as a comic spoof in the year 1967 with David Niven in the lead role. Later, agent 007 found a comical persona in Mike Myers's Austin Powers pictures. We already know of the comic strip adaptation of a non-Fleming Bond, Colonel Sun.

Bond's character was given a direction after its author Ian Fleming's death by another novelist, Kingsley Amis. The fact is that Mr Bond does not draw sustenance anymore from the creative pen of Fleming and that there are limits to further mutation of this mythical man. There is option to make him wittier, less flamboyant and less violent like the agent Addison Barnaby (Ralph Hayes) described as "over forty and getting fat and bald." The same who carried his .38 unloaded and made up for his lack of killer instinct by intelligence and hard work.

This other prototype had never been a cold-blooded secret agent, probably because he liked people too much. On every assignment he would spend extra time learning about the country and the customs of its people. And what he learned often helped him get the job done without the use of "anything more violent than judo." Reason Perhaps

One can imagine the world when Bond first made acquaintance with the audience. Fleming's readers were being initiated to an entirely new world of thrill. A world that moved with the whirr of a roulette wheel around a horrifying story of espionage - chillingly ruthless and deadly. The gadgets, the women, and the cars defined Bond. His signature drink is the martini (shaken not stirred) and his favourite weapon is the Walter PPK.

Bond thus became the popular hero of Everyman's imagination. Possession of hi-tech gadgetry was then exclusive to Bond. This was the world of the secret agent whose business is to kill in cold blood. Here was an average man's introduction to a fantasy world of casinos, nightclubs and glamour. It was based on cold facts of the Cold War.

From the time Bond first appeared on the screen, violence worldwide has increased. Films and novels belonging to the genre of secret agents and spies stand dated. In view of the change, one can simply travesty a James Bond. The gadgetry of the sixties has since lost its mystique.

There is no Berlin Wall now. The Wall was once the backdrop to John Le Carré's novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. This is the story of a frustrated British agent, Alec Leamas, whose life is far from the glamour of James Bond's world. Alec has a love affair with a lonely, unpaid librarian, not an on-the-top fashion model. Today, intelligence agencies seem out of tune with new realities and the new enemy. They appear more sinned against than sinning.

High-tech armies seem powerless before suicide bombers, desperate terrorists and fanatic ideologues. Meanwhile, Alec Leamas and James Bond are as redundant as Maston or M. Gone too are what once used to be the cold grim cities of stealth. The close range battles have been absorbed by killer video games.

At a time when nuclear weapons theft has become a reality and traditional attitudes to the 'enemy' become confused, the world of the sixties must have been truly innocent indeed!

First Published: Oct 22, 2005 00:00 IST