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It took a while for India to catch up with the notion of James Bond. This was because Indian heroes were still virgins when Bond began to wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am his way through the bipolar world. There is textual evidence for this in Brahmachari (1968) and Padosan (1968).

And think about it for a moment, do you believe Devdas (Devdas, 1955) would ever have the gumption to go out and find himself some? Chandramukhi had to practically drag him into her bed. As late as 1971, Helen sings to Rakesh Roshan, a young college boy, in Man Mandir, “Tum abhi kamsin ho, tum abhi nadaan ho"—lines that would be more traditionally addressed to a woman by a man.

Desi 007: Mithun Chakraborty sizzled as Gunmaster G9 in Suraksha.

The first desi Bond was Jeetendra in Farz (1967). Gopal or Agent 116 of the Indian Secret Service was still quite a homeboy, with his remarkable exclamation, “Thunder pe wonder", and his white trousers. He meets Sunita (Babita) in the course of investigating the death of another agent and finds that the trail leads to Sunita’s dad.

The next year, we had Sailesh Kumar, who played a spy in Goldeneyes Secret Agent O77 in 1968. If you do not remember who Sailesh Kumar was, don’t let it worry you. No one else does. This was followed by Agent 999 Operation Jackpot in 1972. Perhaps these flopped badly for it took a while for Rajshri Productions to start Agent Vinod, played by Mahendra Sandhu, which they released in 1977. The story established a pattern that almost all the others were to follow. A scientist (Nasir Hussain) is kidnapped. The government sends in Agent Vinod, who is helped by the daughter of the scientist (Asha Sachdev).

The audience was slightly confused. They had always associated the Rajshri banner with weepies such as Tapasya (1976) and Dulhan Wahi Jo Piya Man Bhaye (1977). The Barjatyas never cut to the car chase because there was no car chase. And here the hero had a sidekick called James Bond, played by Jagdeep. Not surprisingly, the film flopped.

The only James Bond knock-off to be a hit was Suraksha (1979), in which Mithun Chakraborty played Gopi alias Gunmaster G9, with M played by Iftikhar at his school-masterly best. It had that great danceable number, “Mausam hai, gaane ka, bajaane ka…" But Suraksha’s most memorable moment was a graveside sequence. One of the Indian intelligence agents, Jackson (Suresh Oberoi), has been killed by the nasties. When the Indian intelligence agencies dig him up, they find pieces of plastic in his grave. Some uncredited extra utters the immortal lines: “Sir, ispe to plastic surgery kiya gaya hai (sir, he has had plastic surgery)."

Director Ravikant Nagaich tried to recreate the glory of Suraksha with Wardat two years later, in which Gopi came back when the nation was under attack from large locusts—but it flopped. Trade pundits opined that this was because Indian audiences could not take the idea of Gunmaster G9 being unfaithful to Ranjeeta, the heroine of Suraksha, since Kaajal Kiron was now playing the daughter of the kidnapped scientist and the G9 girl. It might well have been that it was just a very bad film.

Even where he does not figure directly in the title, he leaves his mark. Take Shaan (1980). The titles run on a song by Usha Uthup, “Doston se pyaar kiya", which has a Bond feel to its execution, with car chases happening across Katy Mirza’s ribcage and explosions in her pelvis. And Shakaal? Come on, he is our Dr No, no?

Later, Jeetendra tried his hand at Bond 303 (1986), with Parveen Babi as the perfect Bond beauty—perfect, expressionless, incidental. Even Akshay Kumar has played Mr Bond in 1992. And Anil Gadar Sharma tried to fashion Sunny Deol and his toupée into Bond in The Hero (2003).

Shriman Bond, zindabad.

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