"Take movies, music, poetry out of life & its gone!"

The cult theme music of JAMES BOND series and its origin linked with Indian/Hindustani music - Informative Articles on Cinema by Bobby Sing

02 Nov, 2020 | Did You Know!

Ian Fleming’s JAMES BOND has been one of the most influential (fictional) characters of World Cinema, hugely inspiring Indian film writers and directors since its first cinematic adaptation in the early 60s. 
Interestingly, investigative spy thrillers were right there, occasionally made in our cinema in the 1950s too like SAMADHI (1950), CID (1956) and ANDHA NAAL (the ROSHOMON inspired song less Tamil thriller made in 1954), followed by MR. INDIA (1961), SALAAM MEMSAAB (1961) and CHINA TOWN (1962). But the genre actually got its due attention and momentum, post the first James Bond film DR. NO released in 1962. Post its universal success, the concept, styling and characterization got its own cult following and we witnessed a number of films made with the similar vision having titles like SPY IN GOA (1966), SPY IN ROME (1968) and many more even incorporating the brand name BOND and codes similar to 007 in their titles.

The concept was initially adapted in Tamil as VALLAVAN ORUVAN (The Talented One) in 1966, inspired from the 1964 French film BANCO À BANGKOK Pour OSS 117 (Panic in Bangkok or Shadow of Evil in English), also having a James Bond like graphics in its titles. At the same time GUDACHARI 116 (Detective 116/1966) was made in Telugu, which was quickly remade in Hindi as FARZ (1967) featuring Jeetendra. In the very next year came ANKHEN (1968) with Dharmendra enacting the spy and the big success of these two made way for a chain of films in the 70s and 80s featuring Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Mahendra Sandhu, Mithun Chakraborty, Amitabh Bachchan and even Dev Anand in a Filipino/English film. Before these successes The Bond like characters were mostly played by the likes of Sailesh Kumar, Dev Kumar and also Feroz Khan, who became the style icon much later. A couple of decades post the 80s, the genre got re-invented in the new millennium by talented directors like Sriram Raghvan and more.

As a matter of fact, the most prominently 'BOND inspired film' in both style and characterization came in 1980s as SHAAN that had a brilliantly designed and composed opening title sequence (exactly as seen in Bond films), plus a stylish villain and his innovative den clearly belonging to the scary yet adventurous world of James Bond. Seven years later, a similar kind of ambience was also witnessed in the den of Mogambo in MR. INDIA (1987). In addition, such was the craze and impact of the enigma around James Bond, that we even had film titles as GOLDEN EYES SECRET AGENT 077 (1968), SOS JASOOS 007 (1969), JAMES BOND 777 (Telugu/1971), BOND 303 (1985), MR. BOND (1992), LADY JAMES BOND (Telugu-1985/Hindi-2003) and more.

However, moving over the major impact of Bond movies on Indian cinema, this chapter shared from my upcoming book is actually about how its widely famous cult theme music had its basic inspiration coming from an Indian music based melody composed by Monty Norman.

The amazing fact was revealed by Norman himself during his interview with CNN (as well as BBC), while celebrating 50 years of the cinematic phenomenon created by an exceptionally talented team. While recalling the time he was assigned the task of composing the theme music (the first Bond film would be opening with), Norman expressed that while taking up the project, he honestly had no idea, what it would be and whether it would be a Hit or Flop. And within that state of mind, he just happened to pick an old work of his, composed for a stage musical based on the widely acclaimed novel A HOUSE FOR MR. BISWAS written by V. S. Naipaul.

Published in 1961, it was a reputed novel, rated as the author’s best, revolving around an Indian living abroad struggling for success, who eventually sets a personal goal to own a house of his own. The novel was included in the list of Best English novels of the century by many reputed organizations including TIME magazine

While it was being adapted as a stage musical composed by Monty Norman, one of the songs he conceived for the play (that got never staged) was “Good Sign, Bad Sign" sung by an Indian character talking about his ‘Sneeze’. The same notes of the song were later used to compose the famous “James Bond Theme Music" introduced with DR. NO.

In Norman's own words, “I suddenly remembered this little tune, that was in my bottom drawer from A HOUSE OF MR. BISWAS called “Bad Sign Good Sign (or "Good Sign Bad Sign" as quoted in some references)”. I dug it out and thought this is very Asian (in its sound and feel). So I had the idea of splitting the notes. Now the moment I did that, the whole feeling of the song changed. It was suddenly sinister and really worked for the character of James Bond, having the atmosphere, the ambience and then I developed it from that.”

The original song had its key music played on the Indian instrument Sitar accompanied by Tabla. Hence the whole theme required to be reconceived keeping in mind the aura around James Bond.
Post the basic composition got approved by the makers, they got another musical genius on board as John Barry, to orchestrate Monty Norman’s composed theme. Barry took over from there, added more into the basic composition, did a mesmerizing musical arrangement and roped in rock guitarist Vick Flick, whose electric guitar magically replaced the sound of the original Indian sitar giving it a re-birth, resulting in the cult James Bond theme music.

Many years later, there was a dispute too between the creators for the credit of original composer. But the fact remains that where Monty Norman composed the basic notes, John Barry added a lot of his own in the form of orchestration and Vick Flick played the magical notes together creating an immortal piece of art.

Going back to the original song, you might feel amazed reading the lyrics by Julian More as:

“I was born with this unlucky sneeze, 
And what is worse, I came into the world, the wrong way round. 
Pundits all agree that I am the reason, 
why my father fell into the village pond and drowned.

I was born under a bad sign.
Oh love Trinidad, said it was a bad sign.
Hindus and Chinese, Africans and Portuguese,
Everybody worry about my SNEEZE……!”

(The reference of Trinidad in the lyrics is as per the storyline of the novel that was all about the Indian community living in Trinidad.) 
You can hear the original song in the voice of composer Monty Norman by - Clicking HERE.

Today after more than half a century, no doubt its quite unbelievable to think, how a composition dipped in Hindustani classical music played on Sitar and Tabla was so intelligently reworked into the James Bond Theme Music in the early 60s.

Relating it back to Hindi Cinema, you must have heard the famous music being played in the background in several films like in the train sequence of HUMRAHI (1974) or within the title music of WARRANT (1975). But showcasing a distinctive art of composing, music director Ram-Laxman even made a complete song out of the theme music as “Tumko Dekha Hai Aksar Khwaab Mein” in film PREM SHAKTI (1994) including the exact notes singing “Ding Da-Ding Da-Ding Da-Ding”.

Summing up, while feeling the amazement over the origin of the immesely likable and internationally famous musical creation, do search the above mentioned song at Youtube and have a great time watching Govinda and Karishma Kapoor dancing on the James Bond Theme Music in the last decade of the 20th century, when copyrights laws were rarely considered with claims.

Bobby Sing
2nd November 2020 – bobbytalkscinema.com
Note : The write-up is a chapter shared from my upcoming book releasing soon. So any additions, rectifications suggested by friends are welcome to make it better.)

NOTE : The edited form of the article was also published in THE FREE PRESS JOURNAL Newspaper (Mumbai Edition) on 25th April 2021. 
Did You Know By Bobby SingFor more such interesting articles on lesser known facts on Hindi Cinema, do try DID YOU KNOW Series by Bobby Sing available in both Book and E-book form.

Also available 
at Notionpress and Flipkart stores (in India)
And at Amazon-com and Amazon-co-uk abroad.

The Book is now also available in Hindi titled ITNA TO YAAD HAI MUJHE published by Prabhat Prakashan

Tags : The cult theme music of JAMES BOND and its origin linked with Indian Hindustani music Articles on Cinema by Bobby Sing at bobbytalkscinema.com, James Bond Theme Music and Indian Melody, James Bond Music and Indian Classical Music, James Bond links with Indian music.
02 Nov 2020 / Comments ( 4 )
Dhananjay S Kulkarni

The Gun maser G -9 movies in late 70's were the desi bond played by Mithun Chakroborty. The music for these movies was complete bond style. (MD- Bappida)

Bobby Sing

Thats very right.
Thanks for visiting and writing in.

Ajay Patel

Great Post! I love Indian Music. I am glad to read this beautiful Post. If you want more indian classic music then visit at the Maitri Project. Thanks for sharing such amazaing post.

Bobby Sing

Thanks a lot for the kind praises Ajay Patel Ji,
I will surely check the link.
Do keep visiting and writing in,

Leave A Comment
E-mail (will not be published)
Website (Optional)
Enter shown code