No time to die, and definitely not for James Bond. His 25th outing—No Time to Die—is due for release on November 11. The 007 franchise, whose first film Dr No released in 1962, has had a long relationship with Bollywood. It all started in 1967 with Farz. Starring Jumping Jack Jitendra as Agent 116, it did average business. In 1977, arrived the desi James Bond in Agent Vinod, starring Mahendra Sandhu. The film went on to become a hit. A couple of years later, it was the turn of Mithun Chakraborty as Gunmaster G-9 in Surakksha. Officer Gopi (aka Gunmaster G-9) was pitted against a poorly named Indian version of the iconic Bond villain ‘Spectre’—the Shiv Shakti Organisation. The film became the biggest grosser of the year, spawning a sequel in 1981—Wardat.
But it was Shaan (1980), directed by Ramesh Sippy, with the screenplay by Salim-Javed (the trio’s previous venture being the blockbuster Sholay) that gave Bollywood one of its best Bondesque villains—Shakaal. Inspired by Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Shakaal was played by Kulbhushan Kharbanda, till then a largely parallel-cinema actor. Dressed in razor-sharp suits that would give Bollywood designers today a run for their money, he was the epitome of evil. Island fortress, shark tank, a pool of crocodiles to chew those who displeased him, he had it all.
Dalip Tahil, who played one of Shakaal’s henchmen, speaks about the experience. “I tend to think that the area where James Bond impacted the Hindi film industry the most is the villains. In Shaan, it was really fascinating to do that portion in Shakaal’s den, because it was way before its time in terms of technology. We were using the blue screen where the sharks were later put in.
All the gadgets on the set actually worked, like the person in the chair who was ejected into the pool of crocodiles,” says Tahil. Following in Shakaal’s footsteps, Bollywood saw a stream of villains with fancy dens fitted with gizmos by dime-a-dozen. From Anupam Kher playing Dr Dang in Karma in 1986 to Amrish Puri’s Mogambo in Mr India in 1987, the villain had evolved and how. But with the 90s, a new kind of bad guy sans the over-the-top treatment made his way into Bollywood and decided to stay.
Taking inspiration was one thing, but in 2006, Bollywood came close to having its finger in the Bond pie, or, rather taking an evil shot at Agent 007. Indian film industry’s eternal ‘bad man’ Gulshan Grover says, “I was going to be cast as the villain in Casino Royale. However, I didn’t get the role. I feel the best villains are in the Bond films. Tremendous writing goes into their characters. Bond villains have one consistent quality—they’re all gentlemen. They always say, ‘Mr Bond, let me show you what I have!” and then show off their fancy gadgets, nukes and other things. They give Bond the best suites and offer great hospitality. Someday I will play the villain in a Bond film for sure.”
In recent times, there was another attempt at making a slick spy action thriller in 2012—Agent Vinod. Directed by Sriram Raghavan and starring Saif Ali Khan, Grover was one of the baddies in the film. But it came a cropper. “We haven’t been able to make an equivalent of a Bond film, though we did try,” says Grover. What one does really hope for is a resurgence of the larger-than-life Bollywood villain who ruled the roost in the 70s and 80s. And in case you’re bored tonight, check out the 1992 film Mr Bond starring Akshay Kumar up against his nemesis, Dragon. The hope is it’ll both shake and stir.