All of us have a lot of different James Bond memories.
My favourite one came in Kota; the purgatory to the Promised Land of IIT, getting into which promised untold riches. Generally fed up with figuring out trajectories of non-parabolic trajectories in Irodov, we went to the local hall to watch the new Bond movie.
Back in 2006, this meant watching a Hindi dub of Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale in which the language swap morphed a tense poker scene into a Hera Pheri style laughter riot when Bond orders his signature drink: “Ek Martini. Milakar nahi. Hilakar.”
I remember the entire hall (was it Shivam or Sundaram or Satyam?) erupting in riotous laughter. Of course, as many Twitter users have rightly pointed out, Daniel Craig and other actors simply portrayed James Bond, Sean Connery was James Bond.
Even with bad cliches, kindergarten-level tropes, wonky gadgets James Bond became the Ubermensch of male sexuality.
Men wanted to be him; women wanted to be with him.
None of this would’ve been feasible without the Scotsman who managed to lay the foundation for the most successful film franchise after the MCU, Star Wars and the Harry Potter Universe.
Given the Bond franchise’s smaller canvas compared to the other three it was a remarkable achievement.
Everything about Bond became iconic, from its car to his signature cocktail to the way he held his cigarette.
Kids who had never seen a bottle of vodka would want their drink shaken not stirred.
A man driving a beat-up Maruti imagined it was an Aston Martin.
Every actor who came after him was invariably compared to him and for purists of my pater’s generation no one else would ever be 007.
The gadgets where whacky, the women were stereotyped, the villains were racist caricatures, but Bond worked for several reasons.
The first was the timing. The 60s was an era when people were getting sick of the post-World War II doom and gloom.
As Connery told Playboy in 1965: “Bond came on the scene after the War, at a time when people were fed up with rationing and drab times and utility clothes and a predominately gray color in life. Along comes this character who cuts right through all that like a very hot knife through butter, with his clothing and his cars and his wine and his women. Bond. you see is a kind of present-day survival kit. Men would like to imitate him—or at least his success— and women are excited by him.”
In the same interview, Connery shows remarkable self-awareness for an actor stating, that if he behaved the way Bond does, women would either ‘run from him like a jack rabbit or send for the police’.
The second was obviously because seldom had there been such a perfect match of actor and role.
For the new generation, they should think Robert Downey Jr and Tony Stark.
There’s a 1958 incident which foreshadowed his real-life capacity to play James Bond.
Shooting with Lana Turner, Connery’s set received an unwanted guest – LA mobster Johnny Stompanato who was getting green-eyed about his girlfriend’s co-star.
An old report noted: “After several retakes the enraged thug walked into the frame with a handgun and pointed it at Connery, telling him to take his hands off her. But the Scotsman, who grew up getting into fights with gang members in Edinburgh, simply grabbed the gun out of Stompanato's hand, twisted his wrist and sent him running off, yelping in pain. All the while the cameraman kept filming. 'Should I cut yet?' he asked the stunned director.”
As an interesting aside, in a parallel universe, he could’ve been winning the World Cup with England and the European Cup with Manchester United as he had been offered a contract by the legendary manager Matt Busby but turned it down because the pay was too low, as was the wont for footballers in that era. He wasn’t very good, and it was possibly the right choice.
But how did a working-class lad who worked with the Royal Navy, labourer, lorry driver, bodyguard and an artist’s model come to symbolise the epitome of male evolution and Pax Britannica with all its embodying smugness?
How did he become the personification of Received Pronunciation?
First Ian Fleming had to be convinced that Connery was more than an ‘overgrown stuntman’. Producer Cubby Broccoli’s wife convinced him that Connery’s ‘animal magnetism and sexual chemistry’ was perfect. Fleming finally, acknowledged he was wrong, even rewriting Bond’s backstory to give him a half-Scottish upbringing.
Then Terence Young, a director friend, took the young man around town, helping him learn the gentlemanly mannerisms needed to portray the suave, sophisticated secret agent.
As Colin Firth’s Galahad from the Kingsman – a clear tribute to the Connery Bond era – explained to Eggsy: “Being a gentleman has nothing to do with the circumstances of one's birth. Being a gentleman is something one learns.”
And Connery learned, even improving the character from his creator. While Fleming had written Bond – boringly named after an American ornithologist – a blunt instrument and an unfunny twat, Connery added sardonic wit making him the James Bond we know.
Disagreeing with the author’s interpretation, he added: “They’d have to let me play him tongue-in-cheek, so people could laugh. They agreed, and there you are: today Bond is accepted to such an extent that even philosophers take the trouble to analyse him, even intellectuals enjoy defending him or attacking him. And even while they're laughing at him, people take him terribly seriously"
By the end of it, he got ‘pretty arsed’ with the Bond alter-ego, stating that ‘one functioned reasonably well before Bond, and one was going to function reasonably well after Bond’.
However, given the cultural impact, it will be impossible to ever separate that man from the role any more than we can separate Mark Hamill from Luke Skywalker, Robert Downey Jr from Tony Stark, or Jon Hamm from Don Draper.
But what’s more remarkable is what Connery made Bond.
For the uninitiated, James Bond was created by a racist British author – who was angry that black people were getting to vote in their own homeland – as a homage to a crumbling British Empire.
In Fleming’s own head, Great Britain wasn’t just a small island but a global leader who calls the shots even though the reins disappeared long before the Empire was folded up. The Empire more or less ceased to exist after World War II as former colonies said no thank you to the ‘White Man’s Burden’ to civilise natives and now existed solely in the works of Jeffrey Archer, Frederick Forsyth, Agatha Christie, John Le Carre and Rudyard Kipling and the minds of those who voted for Brexit.
This delusion to 'Leave' Europe, without understanding its true implications, left the once-great nation with a bunch of buffoons masquerading as politicians who can't seem to figure out ruling at all.
Ironically, Connery, a proud Scot, took a character created to recapture the vestiges of a long-gone snobbish empire and moulded it into his own image to the extent that it's probably Britain's greatest export right now along with The Beatles and Premier League.
In fact, one could go to any random village in say Uttar Pradesh and ask a kid: “Tu Bond banega?” and he’d know exactly what you were saying.
That is perhaps the greatest tribute that can be paid to Sir Thomas Sean Connery. Britain will never become a global world leader again, but it will always have James Bond.
Nirmalya Dutta is the Web Editor of The Free Press Journal.