The Enduring Appeal Of Bond

GIRLS, guns, gadgets, glamour, great action. A sexy British secret agent, with a licence to kill, who beds women at will, saving the world from the most dangerous of villains. That’s been the formula of the longest running franchise in film history, with over 6000 MILLION dollars 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 in 1962 by a magnificent Sean Connery in DR NO. Since then, much water has flowed down the River Thames. And Bond too has evolved with 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 very gritty, manly, modern Daniel Craig. He’s said this may be his last Bond. But then again, “Never say never” is also a Bondian motto.

“Hopefully, my Bond is not as sexist and misogynistic as earlier incarnations,” Craig said recently. “The world has changed”. Agent 007 has fallen in love with the “Bond girl” only twice since the franchise began. 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 till 2006, in Casino Royale (one of the finest Bond films), that we saw Bond fall in love with a woman truly, deeply, madly. He even resigned from MI6 to live happy ever after with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). Sadly, that ended tragically too. 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.

More than the man himself, the earlier attitude of Bond films to women has become more politically correct. Once 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”, in which I played the villain, had a naughty film title. In 1982, after it was filmed in India, 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 Bond films can change without destroying their DNA. Nowadays some are asking why 007 can’t be portrayed as a gay man, or played by a woman. That’s not likely to 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. Judy 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 James should remain the alpha male, the man we’ve grown to love. Some things are best left unchanged for the survival of a species.

Kabir Bedi is an international actor, social commentator, Oscar voter. Knighted “Cavaliere” by the Italian Republic.

Published Hindustan Times , November 5th 2015

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