Sunday, February 8, 2009

A New 'Bond'

Note : This review was started in November when I saw the film.

So there I have finally met him!

I met Bond, James Bond. Yes, I am talking of Daniel Craig, the (not so) new James Bond. After somehow missing 'Casino Royale' I watched the latest Bond flick - 'Quantum of Solace'over the week-end. I know talking about the 'newness' of a James Bond after he is two films old is a crime punishable by unmentionable torture by card carrying Bond club members. [Psst..The best way to achieve that would be to subject the defaulter to a sustained dose of our desi bond, Himesh Reshamaiyya....But I shall keep quiet. Self preservation after all wins over any lure of adulation for a brilliant idea!].

As is apparent, I am not a card carrying Bond club member. I do not have any childhood or adolescence memories of being in love with James Bond. Strangely, I have no childhood memories of Bond at all!. This could be attributed to the fact that we were dependent upon Doordarshan for our dose of vintage cinema and there was no way Doordarshan would show James Bond. As you would guess, he was a little too hot for the safari-suit clad, pan-chewing babus who populated the hallways of this erstwhile monument of socialism. DD had a marked preference for the Hollywood that was sanitized and censored.

Ok, let me confess, I do have a childhood memory of Mr Bond, but it is of the slightly disturbing variety. Mr Uppal, our rotund physics teacher was a terror to those who harboured a devilish streak. He was 4 feet 4 inches high, well-rounded from all angles and it was with an exaggerated air of self-importance that he would rest his pot belly on the desk to expound on the theory of relativity. Whenever he strutted down the hallowed corridors of our alma-mater the class would break into a chorus -  'ding... di ding... di ding...di ding'.. the James Bond signature tune. So profound was the effect of this Uppalomania that even today when I hear the strain of the famous tune I get visions of a 4 by 4 sardar with a wobbling belly and steely eyes striding down a narrow corridor.....

Returning to the present, watching James Bond is a relatively new phenomenon in my life.  'The World is Not Enough' was the first real James Bond film I watched and needless to say Pierce Brosnan is the next best thing after the Greek Gods. (Wait, lets strike out the 'Greek Gods' part and put Dev Anand in instead... yes, sounds better!).  Following on the heels of  'The World is Not Enough', HBO went through a phase of Bond-o-mania and I fresh with Brosnan-o-mania updated myself with all the old Bond movies in a single marathon session that lasted about a week or ten days.  It was a memorable experience and resulted in some lasting impressions. The more persistent of those impressions are reproduced below. Some of them admittedly are established notions about the genre and life as such.

1. James Bond is the male equivalent of a chick-flick. He was created to fuel the adolescent male fantasy.

2. The target audience is the 16 year old male.

3. The direct inference from #2 is that its target audience are all men since men never proceed beyond the mental age of 16.

4. Sean Connery, supposedly the most dashing of them all was nothing but a hep 'Uncleji'. We have seen many of his type in India, esp. when we were growing up. Remember the neighbourhood uncle who still wore checked trousers in the 80s?.

5. Timothy Dalton looked like Anil Kapoor without a moustache (and no that's not a compliment)

6. Roger Moore.. Yawn.

7. George Lazenby... who?

8. James Bond films became 'chick-worthy' only after Pierce Brosnan.

9. James Bond films started losing their teeth with the end of the cold war.

I know #8 and #9 somewhat contradict each other. There is the need to have Bond move with the times and cater to it's alterted audience base and yet remain faithful with what we identify as James Bond, a creature that thrived in a world fighting the cold war. This contradiction is the greatest dillema of the Bond brand in the new millennium

As the credits of Quantum of Solace start rolling this dichotomy presents itself in bold font. The titles flash in the retro seventies format with psychedelic shapes and colours consuming the vision. They all seem to have been lifted off old covers of Fleming's books. The link with the Bond heritage is firmly established. In case you choose to be thick, then the persistent signature tune will surely hammer in the fact that this is not just any film that you are about to watch, it is THE James Bond. But it takes just ten minutes and two thrilling chases into the film and you are already debating over the significance of Bond in this new world.

Even though Ian Fleming drew his inspiration from the second world war spy networks for creating Bond, by the time Agent 007 came of age the world was a strongly polarised place. In the bi-polar world the lines were clearly drawn.  Mr Bond and his entourage were placed squarely on the western side of the Iron Curtain and strange accented Russians were the staple villains from the other side.  In the cold war between communism and capitalism, the flashy capitalist gadgets were the heroes of the day.  It was a simple good vs evil tale, that found it's heroes and villains within the given world order. That has been James Bond's modus operandi from time immemorial. But then came Perestroika and with it fell the greatest bastion of communism. With the disintegration of USSR and the fall of the Berlin wall the world suddenly, was not the place it used to be. KGB lost it's edge and the Russians switched to queing for their daily bread instead of procuring latest missile technology. The enemy had fallen and with it fell the teeth of the Bond Brand leaving behind a doddering geriatric whose dentures simply couldn't bite any longer.

The challenge for the new age Bond writers has been double-edged. In the new free world, they have to find a villain that is evil and dangerous enough to be worthy of being a Bond villain. And at the same time they had to upgrade James Bond from the rake of the sixties to a man of today.  Both daunting tasks for they call for shaking the very foundation of the house of Bond. The writers decided to undertake the latter job first.  With the dawn of the millennium we saw subtle changes in Bond films. The Bond girl no longer remained the grand and celebrated bimbette. Along with the staple dose of bust and butt she slowly started showing traces of a third 'B' factor - the brain!  In the same vein Bond started softening. Pierce Brosnan falling in love with Elektra was the first indication of the change to come.  In the Brosnan era, the changes were subtle and limited. It needed a complete overhaul to make Bond a man of the millennium. That overhaul happened with Daniel Craig. And how!

I shall resist from the temptation of going into the details of the 'how' part of it. Partly because realms have already written about it and partly because if I start down that path then there is the danger of my nicely academic tone changing into a gushing torrent of adulation. Needless to say the overhaul of James Bond has been an astounding success. Daniel Craig is a man of today. He has all the vintage Bond genes and with it he brings a complexity and emotional intensity that is spanking new.  He falls in love, pines for a woman lost and shows a Heathcliff like intensity as he comforts a dying associate in his arms. He then shows a Heathcliff like detachment as he chucks the corpse of the same man he comforted a minute ago into a garbage dump with a crisp - 'He wouldn't have minded'. The new Bond does every thing that was an anathema to the old Bond and he does it with a panache that would put the the old Bond to shame!

If 'Casino Royale' focused on reinventing James Bond himself, 'Quantum of Solace'  had the onus of finding him a worthy adversary.  And unwittingly (I say unwittingly because I assume the film was scripted atleast a year before it was released), the writers hit jackpot. Released barely a month after the epoch-making events on wall street, Quantum of Solace has aligned with a new world ethos. As the giants of wall-street fall like nine-pins, the bankers come under flak for extravagant lifestlyes, global-warming and resource management become a world concern,  a new president has created history in USA.  Here is a president who is clearly centre-left in his ideologies, so much so that he is often accused of being a soclialist.  Suddenly capitalism has come under siege in the very place that was the strongest bastion of the ideology. The bewildered world seeks a new order.  

In this climate it is an interesting co-incidence that the Bond villain is the ruthless capitalist who monopolises the natural resources of a land for his personal gains. For long it is being said that the next world war would be fought over water. There is a sudden panic against scenarios where the world's resources would fall into the hands of exploitative capitalists. The virtues of socialism are suddenly in vogue and there is a return to the socialist bent in thinking. In a grand reversal of roles Mr Bond and Mr Villain have exchanged spots. Naked capitalism has moved to the evil side of the fence and 007 now speaks with a socialist accent. Truly phenomenal!

But wait, if you think that all the great things mentioned about Quantum of Solace end up in making a great film, please disabuse yourself of the notion right now. The film is a complete wash out and a total waste of time. It is an opportunity lost. For a film that had everything going for it - good idea , great cast, how did that happen?  Well, it is simple - there is a fine line between building a brand and falling to a cliché. The makers in an over zealous attempt to build the brand strayed deep into the latter territory. The latest Bond flick proves to be grand collection of clichés. It is a true tick-mark effort. A thrilling chase - tick, interesting gadgets - tick, encounter with beautiful girl - tick, sadist villian -tick, grand locales - tick. Get the drift? There is no script to talk about or maybe there was one to begin with, but the script writer lost his way counting tick marks. 

Yet, it is not these clichés that are the real failing of this film. What this Bond venture is missing is a belief in itself. The old Bond films were replete with what we call cliches today but they seemed to genuinely believe in whatever they did. It is because of this acute lack of conviction that this film, ends up being a grand, lavishly mounted caricature of the genre. Yes, Quantum of Solace is not James Bond film.  It is a spoof. Let us just strike it off the list of James Bond films and wait for next one!


Please vote for the James Bond you have liked the most. The poll is on the side-bar of the blog-page


  1. dudette! not sean penn!! !please!
    sean connery(the best bond ever!)

  2. OMG What blasphemy. What was I smoking. The slip has been rectified.

    But Neha, how can you continue to idolise that uncleji, atleast it has to Brosnan if not Craig!

  3. he maybe a uncle now, ritu, but he was hot and stud once!

    i like brosnan too...but sean is another matter altogether :) he is the original bond!

  4. Ritu

    Great blog. COuple of additions / comments. Poor George Lazeebee (my mis-spelling) always gets the short end of the stick even among hard core Bond pankhas. His 'OHMSS' - thats On Her Majesty's Secret Service - is pobably 2 or 3 in the Bond list for its 'character drivern' story and not the usual 3 g formula - guns, girls, gadgets and not in that order .:)

    Keep posting

  5. Ramesh, I think that is because of the lack of that 'X' factor. A key ingredient to the Bond magic. One requires heightened levels of panache, style an flamboyance to be James Bond. It is like Balraj Sahni cannot become Dev Anand!

  6. Ritu excellent review of Mr. Bond :)

    I agree with another comment here - Sean Connery was the best of the lot.

    I know James bond movies are bit cliched with hackneyed plot-lines but who cares – it is like watching those masala bollywood flicks from 60s. Good Paisa vasool - that too without unnecessarily exerting the neurons :)

    However, I did not particularly like the QoS - I guess, the scriptwriter/director lost the plot here: it is neither a James Bond film nor anything else :)

  7. Yes, but imagine taking a Shammi Kapoor film and remaking it today with all the Kashmir, Premnath cliches. It would need and Anurag Kashyap and DevD for it to really work out.

    Talking of Desi Bonds, who do you think was our Desi Bond? Dev Anand? with Jewel Thief and Johnny Mera Naam?

  8. Goldfinger, Goliath of crime, We miss those Bonds.
    An Excellent article

  9. The kind of Bond you want is already there in a theater near you. He's called Jason Bore, er, Bourne. He fails the tick mark test.

  10. Good review of Bond. You should review Bollywood. You have a good grasp of cinema.

    Bond movies are high-octane masala movies that entertain men of all ages. They are formulic but there is never a dull moment. But I did not enjoy the last outing. It did not feel like a Bond movie at all. The editing was so choppy I got headache after 15min into the movie. If this new make over of Bond, the Bond franchise is doomed. But one can never say die to Bond. It knows how to survive against all odds. All it needs is new set of gizmos to survive current ordeal.

  11. @ Kerty:
    James Bond did reinvent himself big way with Pierce Brosnan but the current set of writers do not seem to believe in the Bond Brand. One needs a DevD style overhaul of James Bond for it too remain in vogue.

    And thanks for your kind comments, I do review 'Bollywood' once in a while, but it is mostly of vintage variety. I'll post some abridged articles here sometime.

  12. Bond had always been a symbol of machismo in earlier days. But the villain that finally got him is political correctness and feminism, and then he had to become emosional and cry like a baby, since that is what magazines like Cosmo prescribe men to do from time to time, in order to keep their women happy. This is the unfortunate part of 'keeping up with the times'.

  13. 'M' had to be whining feminist instead of a tough-as-nails boss. If it had to be a fashionbly female character, then why not somebody who could project Thatcher like quality?

    My favorite actors for playing Bond:

    1) Sean Connery:- Tough, ruthless, charming, funny and a suave ladies man.

    2) George Lazenby:- Tough and ruthless. Also a suave ladies man. Although, he failed the kissing scene in his screen test, he more than made up for it with ruthlessness. He actually bloodied a stuntman in his screen test, which is why he eventually got the part.

    3) Timothy Dalton:- Ruthless, suave but not tough enough. A Shakespearean who had the misfortune of being cast in not so well made Bond movies.

    4) Roger Moore:- Funny, Suave and Charming. But lacks toughness, the essential quality for being Bond. He was lucky, as his movies were well directed and produced.

    5) Daniel Criag:- Tough, Ruthless and not at all charming. Basically a brawney thug. Won't last long and won't be remembered.

    6) Pierce Brosnan:- Worst Bond ever. A metrosexual who got lucky. Its like Rajesh Khanna trying to be Dharam paaji. Suitable only for the original Casino Royale.

  14. Sigh. What a satisfying read this was!

  15. @ Kaiser_Soze says :
    Pierce Brosnan:- Worst Bond ever. A metrosexual who got lucky. Its like Rajesh Khanna trying to be Dharam paaji. Suitable only for the original Casino Royale.
    LOL.. even though I love Pierce Brosnan, the Rajesh Khanna trying to do Dharam Paaji part is very funny :)

    @ Kaiser_Soze #6 says :
    'M' had to be whining feminist instead of a tough-as-nails boss. If it had to be a fashionbly female character, then why not somebody who could project Thatcher like quality?
    Remember feminists and chauvinists balance each other out. Now you know why M was a feminist?

    @ Led : Remember, it is you men who were and are the greatest patrons of James Bond so if James Bond turned into a metro-sexual dandy you have to blame the that section of men who aspire to be like the 'Cosmo' man. The dissent is amongst your ranks :).

    Jokes apart, it is a wonder how everything in DC heads down the feminism/chauvinism path. Aren't you guys bored of it?

  16. There can be no parallel to Sean Connery. He is the original bond, rest are just poor images of him.

    There was lot of hype for Pierce Brosnan, especially, the interest he created through Remington Steele (he was great in it). But, as a bond he was big failure. Not much can be done, scrip and directors are tinkering too much with Bond character.

    All bond movies that are based on Ian Flemming novels are the best of the lot. Now the scripts are weak, hence the Bond character is totally confused, how to present him ?

    Danial Craig, is a refreshing change, and Casino Royale was a good watch as primarily it is inspired by Ian Flemming novel only.

    Quantum of Solace, the worst bond film ever. Daniel Craig can't do anything, scripts are weak and there is a lot of tinkering with Bond character, utter confusion.

  17. Poor Sean Connery! If you must condemn him to "Uncle"-dom at least let it be a very hot and dashing one. And as one who loves Pierce Brosnan way more than Sean Connery, I think his (Brosnan's) Bond movies were the most boring ever. OK, maybe the fact that they werent made in the 60s took away the oldies stamp that makes even boring movies acceptable to me...

    I havent seen QoS but from watching Casino Royale I'd say 007 has merely gone back to to Ian Fleming's books - recycling rather than re-inventing - which is why it was the only 007 movie that actually had a story and dialogues (yup, I am not 007's target audience!).

    Just found your blog through Richard's blogroll and have spent the last couple of hours blissfully renewing my acquaintance with Manna Dey classics thanks to your posts. Loving it!

  18. Ritu cant say if it could be definitely Dev Saab - he looked ridiculous in action sequences :-) Other than him, Dharmendra ( as in Aankhen etc)and Jitendra (as in Farz - that actually established him as a star) have also did Bond like roles. But quite frankly none of these did a convincing job - all of them caricatured the Bond.

  19. Dear bollyviewer,

    ok I concede, a hep uncleji, but an uncleji neverthless :).

    As far as recycling is concerned, it not a bad idea. They have a solid script in place and then there is a market for nostalgia and period films. For new ventures they desperately need new directors and script-writers!

    I am glad to enjoyed Manna da's songs. I would welcome your suggestion on your top 10 picks of Mannada's songs as well.

  20. My Manna da favorites are the usual popular choices - Ae mere pyaare watan, Kasme waade pyaar wafaa, Tu pyaar ka saagar, Suraj zara aa paas aa, Ae bhai zara dekh ke and other assorted Raj Kapoor songs (I share your allergy for RK but he did give Manna da a chance to shine!). Recently I stumbled across a Rafi-Manna Dey duet from an obscure movie called Johnny Walker - Munh se mat laga - its simply hilarious to hear an audibly drunk Manna da exhort an equally drunk companion to stop drinking! I always thought he was one of the best and most underrated of Bollywood's singers, but never considered vocal "acting" to be one of his strong suits - this song doesnt sound like it!

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