james bond

It’s James Bond who needs to be shaken and stirred, not the actor who will play him

Who should play British agent 007 on the screen? Is that the real question?

As someone who has recently taken to reading Ian Fleming’s books, I am drawn into the debate surrounding Joanna Lumley’s comments about actor Idris Elba not being the James Bond that Fleming created.

Film writer Caspar Salmon’s column in the Guardian made several valid points. The most persuasive being that we should abandon the “emotionless character that belongs to a grotesque tradition”. Bond is a “hero” who is heterosexist, misogynistic, and racist – so inherent in 1954’s Live and Let Die that getting beyond the first chapter proved too much for this reader – more needs to be done than just another change of actor.

Yet the “who-will-be-the-next-Bond” discussions never stop. According to the press, Elba is equally not interested, a contender, and a sure thing. We’ve even had a “Jane Bond” social media campaign which saw Gillian Anderson throwing her metaphorical hat in the ring.

Given that the creative minds behind the BBC’s Doctor Who – a series predicated on the doctor’s ability to regenerate, which gives completely free reign over the actor who is cast – have managed to reincarnate the good Doctor a mere 13 times as a white man, do the chances of real diversity seem beyond even science fiction, let alone upper-class Cold War imperialism?

The eternal playboy

Historian Tim Stanley argues that to give Bond “breasts” would be to “lose the magic behind the character” – so we can safely assume that Bond is merely a powerful metaphorical penis. In keeping what have become the stock symbols – the fast cars, expensive suits, the Martinis and the exotic locations with their equally exotic women – the films have arguably become more one-dimensional than the novels. Books which, for all their issues, can still be located within a different social and historical context. So what is our excuse now?

In the conclusion of 2015 film Spectre, there is an inevitability to which the final shot – of Bond and Madeline Swann walking across London Bridge – seems fated to result in the kind of brutality with which Teresa di Vincenzo met her abrupt end in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963). In the novel, if not as explicitly on screen, Bond’s joy at the planning of his future wedded bliss extends to the imagined home-making in his London flat, long and loving phone conversations between them as he works to bring down super-villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and the growing awareness that his life finally holds richer meaning.

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Spectre (2015).

Teresa, like Madeline, was Bond’s match: flighty, adventurous, fearless, daughter of a high-ranking criminal with an understanding of the necessity for “real men” to carry concealed weapons. Both women are victims of their own violent pasts – they are strong but need rescuing from themselves. Bond, however, has to be a playboy, he can save them, avenge them even, but he cannot be “tamed” by them.

Self-destruction

Spoof spy character Austin Powers ridiculed the constant disruption of the spy’s romantic bliss in the beginning of The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999). His new wife turned out to be a fem-bot, which must self-destruct or risk bringing down the spy himself. Even Judi Dench, after 20 years as M, met her end as a foolish female victim – how could the head of the secret intelligence service inexplicably use a torch on a dark Highland escape? Forget a female Bond when so few of the women in the films last beyond the end credits.

Perhaps the bigger question is not who should play the next Bond but why haven’t we moved on? Looking back at the original stories, and even ignoring the problematic 1950s cultural landscape, they are a mixed bag. Some are gripping, well-paced and thrilling, others loose and unwieldy, slow or confusing. Casino Royale (1953) is almost entirely focused on a card game that no one understands any more (when not playing cards, Bond is busy calling Vesper Lynd a “bitch”). Moonraker (1955) takes place in Dover not California, Venice or Rio. There are episodes in which even Bond is bored; chapters where he sits at his desk and complains about paperwork, moving it from in-box to out-tray.

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Moonraker (1979).

All of this is a far-cry from the jet-setting man of mystery in our cultural imagination – the whirlwind of cocktails and casual sex, heightened by theatrically high kicks and slow-motion punches, casual Western imperialism, and upper-class patriarchy. More important than who will play him, is the question of why we have unnaturally prolonged the life of Ian Fleming’s spy.

Guardian readers were quick to call Salmon’s assertion that Bond is effectively the same age as Prince Philip unfair, and they’ve got a point. We don’t hold Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple to their fictional birth dates. We do, however, recognise the need to update the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, taking the essence of their detection and applying it in modern ways. Bond, on the other hand, has all the latest gadgetry, new global enemies, and even an invisible car, but his “essence” has sadly stayed the same.

Nicola Bishop, Senior Lecturer in English/Film and Television, Manchester Metropolitan University.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.