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How Atul Kulkarni discovered the Indian secret of James Bond's iconic theme

The actor shared a video that details the connection between the James Bond theme by Monty Norman and Hindustani classical music.

Shriram Iyengar

As far as soundtracks go, the iconic introduction of James Bond is one of the most unforgettable scores in the history of cinema. But did you know that the composition by Monty Norman has a connection with Indian classical music?

While the connection is known to quite a few musicologists, actor Atul Kulkarni shared a video of composer Monty Norman himself telling the story of the iconic musical piece. 

Kulkarni took to Twitter to share the trivia: "The world famous James Bond tune has an Indian classical connection!! The composer tells the story himself!!! Interesting!!!!!!!!! (sic)," he wrote.

The actor received the video by Tamil actor Ajith, and it is one of those discoveries that makes even actors turn into nerds. The video, part of BBC1's The One Show, tracks the journey of the iconic theme music from being a forgotten composition to one of the most widely hummed and remembered scores of cinema music.

The James Bond theme was composed by Monty Norman, a singer turned composer who worked on band music scores for musicians like Ted Heath and Nat Temple, before working with the singer Cliff Richards and the comedian Bob Hope, among others. However, Norman's fame rests on this one immortal composition.

Norman's Bond connection begins in his theatre days, when he composed music for the show, The Ballad Of Dr Crippen, a musical backed by Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli. Broccoli went on to buy the rights to Ian Fleming's Bond novels, and started the iconic franchise.

Norman says, "Cubby Broccoli rang me and asked me to come to his office to meet his new partner Harry Saltzman." It was then that the two told Norman about the plan to turn James Bond into a film. 

While the novels themselves have become must-reads for anyone with an interest in spy fiction, Norman confesses he had not read the books: "No, not really, I had heard of James Bond. But I had never read them."

Norman was then invited to the Carribbean where the filming of Dr No (1962) was underway. While the producers hoped the composer would find inspiration, Norman had other ideas. "I didn't know whether the Bond film would be a hit or a flop, but at least we had a sun, sand and sea holiday," he smirks in the video. 

It is here that the crucial part of the video opens up. Norman reveals the source of the iconic score. He says, "It [the James Bond theme] came from a musical that Julie Moore and I were writing called A House For Mr Biswas based on VS Naipaul's novel." 

The novel, written by the Nobel laureate, tells the story of an Indo-Trinidadian who is constantly in the hunt for success but only achieves failure. The book was widely acclaimed and even included in the list of '100 Best English Novels Between 1923 and 2005' by Time magazine. 

The producers then brought in John Barry, who went on to become synonymous with music in Bond films. In fact, for a while, fans thought it was Barry who composed the tune.

Nevertheless, Norman goes on to explain how he used the Hindustani classical music-based song 'Good Sign, Bad Sign' and riffed it into a jazzy, noirish theme that came to define every Bond film since.

While the original song is a slow, lyrical sitar rhythm, the Bond theme has a more fast-paced strumming that defines the 'ruthlessness, sexiness and mystery' of the hero, James Bond.

No wonder Atul Kulkarni was excited to learn this trivia. After all, even actors are, on some level, fans themselves.