The evergreen spy

Fictional Hero

Unlike Indian filmmakers who are content with shooting on exotic foreign locations, there is immaculate planning and a certain method in Hollywood filmmakers’ choice of locale, and how to make even the most mundane look eye-catching.

Delhi and its surroundings, for instance, have been depicted in over 50 Hindi films down the years, but seldom have the filmmakers looked beyond historical or modern monuments. Not one of the locations in Delhi zeroed down (the crowded Sarojini Nagar market where a bomb had exploded killing many and injuring more, the equally busy book trade-infested Ansari Road with narrow arterial lanes) for the tentatively titled Bond 23 have ever featured in an Indian film. Bureaucracy has often played spoilsport, which is what happened with Daniel Craig’s third outing as 007.

After creating roadblocks, permission for high-tech stunts atop an Indian train has been conditionally granted. For a particular scene, the script zeroed down on the Sabarmati Railway Line in Gujarat, but apart from citing it as “a busy route’, objection was also raised to showing passengers sitting atop a train, not an uncommon sight in India. However, now, the location seems to have shifted to Goa where the chase would end in sea.

Reports indicate that the shooting in India might be held from October to January. Meanwhile,  Bond’s favourite Aston Martin has already landed on Indian soil together with other sophisticated film shooting equipment. British filmmaker Sam Mendes, who won an Oscar for directing American Beauty, already hassled by delays because of financial problems at MGM, has thrown down his hat and even succumbed to the railway minister’s dictate to make Bond an ‘ambassador for Indian Railways’.

While many vital details are withheld, Daniel Craig (43) will be leading the cast together with Dame Judi Dench (76) as MI6 chief M, Ralph Fiennes (48), and Oscar winner Spaniard Javier Bardem (42) as the main villain. It has been scheduled for a November 9, 2012 release worldwide, Bond’s 50th anniversary.

Daniel Craig, in his last two outings as Bond with the 2006 Casino Royale and 2008 Quantum of Solace, has already proved to be the most worthy successor of Sean Connery (others being George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan).

The longevity of the British Secret Service spy with ‘a license to kill’ has surprised film as well as literary historians. The Ian Fleming hero has outlasted other fictional characters like Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster and Jeeves; Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple; and Sherlock Holmes. One reason could be, unlike others, Bond is alive, vibrant and constantly modern.

According to Robert McCrumm, “The world of Aston Martins and dry martinis (shaken, not stirred) is just as remote as the world of Mayfair drones, spats and monocles. The daring British spy is now as much a historical figure as the gentleman’s gentleman or an amateur detective. Yet, Bond unfailingly lives to fight another day while Wooster and Poirot are heading for retirement.”

A clever thing that the estate of Ian Fleming did was to forever look for writers who could carry forward the story without changing the basic character and having successfully experimented with Sebastian Faulks, Raymond Benson, Kingsley Amis (pseudonym Robert Markham) and John Gardener, they zeroed down on Jeffery Deaver, the ‘gruesome’ American author to give Bond a makeover.

For, it is not easy to continue a tale of bravado with the same set of sex and shoot ingredients, without experimenting too much with the formula — modern technology, a ruthless, ambitious villain, new locations, interesting situations, and so on. James Bond was conceived by Ian Fleming in 1953 (altogether 12 novels and 9 stories) in Casino Royale (it was originally filmed for television) though the first big screen avatar came in the form of Dr No, 1962, produced by Harry Saltzman and Albert A Brocolli, though the former had acquired the film rights for the Bond franchise.

David Niven had been the original choice for Dr No (also famous for Ursula Andress’s mermaid-like appearance from the sea in a bikini complete with a gun attached to her left thigh) but he turned it down, as also, paradoxically, Roger Moore, though he did later feature in subsequent movies.

From Russia with Love (1963) was the last movie that the Bond inventor saw before his death in 1964. This big grosser was closely followed by Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), On her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969 (George Lazenby), Diamonds for Forever (1971 again with Connery), Live and Let Die (1973), The Man with a Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (in 1983, which was partially shot in India with Kabir Bedi and Vijay Amritraj playing stellar roles), A View to Kill, 1985 (Roger Moore), The Living Daylights (1987), Licence to Kill (1989, Timothy Dalton), The Golden Eye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), The World Is Not Enough (1999) and Die Another Day, (2002, Pierce Brosnan).

Though much older than the other Bonds, Roger Moore enacted the role in seven films; no actress has ever been repeated. Another important feature for Bond’s longevity are the spellbinding exotic locales that the films are shot in, heightened by dramatic gags, gadgets, watches and cars.

Reflecting on Bond trivia, Graham Rye, scriptwriter and film archivist, who established the 007 Magazine Archive Files (a single window for enquiries related to Bond franchise), said in an interview, while reflecting on Ian Fleming’s methodology: “Suddenly I could picture Ian Fleming running an eyeglass over the maps of the area with a wry smile while looking for another input for his James Bond novels. Coincidentally, there’s even a small village near Staple called Flemings!”

There is also some trivia worth examining about how the author named the ‘heroines’ in various novels. But that’s as far as Fleming is concerned. It would also be interesting to enlist how and why the various directors zeroed down on locations as varied as Chantilly, France, and San Francisco (A View to Kill), Berlin, India (Octopussy), Istanbul, Turkey (From Russia With Love), Luxor, Egypt (The Spy Who Love Me), Jamaica (Dr No), Cadiz, Spain (Die Another Day), Vienna, Austria (The Living Daylights) Monte Carlo, Monaco (Golden Eye) and far flung places that Fleming, a British naval intelligence officer (apart from being a journalist and author listed at number 14 in the list of 50 Great British Writers since 1945), often seen mapping the world, couldn’t have perceived. One could go ad nauseam with the list. But then there would, probably, be another day, another time.

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