Sunday 11 November 2012

What’s in a name?

                                                              With the release of his flick ‘Skyfall’ last week, James Bond has completed his cinematic journey of 50 years which started in 1962 with Dr. No. My earliest memory of a James Bond movie goes back to a suave Roger Moore in Moonraker which I saw during my school days in Chennai. Much later I saw Octupussy on television essentially because it starred two Indians, Kabir Bedi and Vijay Amritraj. From any self respecting Indian’s point of view, it is a terrible film-full of stereotypes (from fakirs to Rajas to elephants) and quite obvious that it was made primarily for a western audience. Then early this year I bought the book Quantum of Solace, the complete collection of James Bond short stories (Penguin) by Ian Fleming (who created James Bond in 1953 with the book Casino Royale) at the World Book Fair in New Delhi. It contains several stories whose titles are the same as that of some of the James Bond  movies including ‘From a View to a Kill’, ‘Quantum of Solace’, ‘The Living Daylights’, ‘For Your Eyes Only’ and ‘Octopussy’. The book was resting on my shelf amongst the huge stock of books backlogged for reading at an appropriate time (which never comes!!) but before watching ‘Skyfall’, I decided to read the short stories and also see how well they had been adapted to the big screen (from the five stories mentioned above, I have seen 'Quantum of Solace' and 'Octopussy'). Imagine my surprise when I read these two short stories and realised they had nothing in common with the movies, except the title and James Bond (and he is not even the protagonist).
In the film ‘Octopussy’, the title is taken from the name of the character played by Kristina Wayborn, a wealthy woman who leads the Octopus cult and is based out of Rajasthan in India. She switches sides towards Bond (from the exiled Afghan king, Khan who is in cahoots with a renegade Soviet general to explode a nuclear device in Europe) in the latter half of the movie and helps him to destroy the king’s palace in India. The short story from which the title has been taken could not be more different. The main protagonist of the story is Major Dexter Smythe who enjoys a retired life in Jamaica till one day James Bond is sent to bring him in because of a wrongdoing by the major, many years earlier when he was working for the secret services section in-charge of cleaning up the German hideouts at the end of the war. The major stays in a villa on the beach in Jamaica, and over a period of time, becomes very fond of the fish in the sea including an octopus whom he feeds lumps of raw meat. To understand what happens after Bond’s arrival and what role does that particular octopus play subsequently, you will have to read the story which has quite a bizarre ending and absolutely nothing in common with the movie having the same title.
In the short story titled Quantum of Solace the protagonist is Philip Masters or rather his wife Rhoda Llewellyn, a former air-hostess. The story of their marriage and subsequent separation (which forms a major chunk of the story) is narrated to James Bond by the colony Governor one night after dinner. The Governor coins the term ‘Law of the Quantum of Solace’ while explaining the deterioration in the relationship between Philip and his wife. There is a small twist in the end of the story but again it has got nothing to do with Bond who is merely a listener in what is essentially a love story (read it and judge for yourself!)
The movie ‘Quantum of Solace’ has been shot as a sequel to ‘Casino Royale’ (in which Daniel Craig made his debut as James Bond) and finds James Bond trying to bust a secret organisation called Quantum whom he holds responsible for the death of his love, Vesper Lynd and battles a businessman Dominic Greene (a member of Quantum organisation) who is planning a coup d'état in Bolivia. Again no similarity with the short story.
I am sure that same is the case with the other three short stories in the collection.So then why was the title of these short stories given to these movies even though there is not even a semblance of similarity between the story and the movie. I do not think that many James Bond movie fans recall or have read any of Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories (who died in 1964) and am sure they could have found a better sounding name than 'Quantum of Solace'! My guess is that by using the film title from Fleming’s short stories they are paying tribute to the creator of one of the most iconic characters of our times and at the same time attempting to maintain a link with the originals stories.  

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