The world's longest-running film franchise turns 21 by returning to 007's roots in `Casino Royale.'

"Shaken or stirred, Sir?" asks the bartender. "Do I look like I care?" retorts James Bond, fiction's most fastidious super spy whose impeccable taste in everything, martinis included, underpinned the longest film franchise, 44 years and running. The coming-of-age product, the new 007 yarn is his 21st official screen outing, goes back to the series' roots, to `Casino Royale,' the first novel where Ian Fleming introduced the British Secret Service agent in 1953. Incredibly, the book has never been filmed seriously before. The screen rights were sold by the author in 1954, for a paltry $6,000 to a producer, who turned the British Bond into an American for a television play.

Acquired the rights

When the team of Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman started Eon Productions in 1961, they acquired the rights to film the sixth Bond novel, "Dr. No," and it proved so successful that they won rights to all subsequent novels written by Fleming. The rights to "Casino Royale" changed hands and ended up with Columbia Pictures, which jumped on the lucrative `Bond wagon' and turned the book into a ludicrous film (1967), a spoof, featuring multiple members of the Bond clan played by the likes of David Niven and Woody Allen.Ironically Columbia, which has been roasted by the media and cinema-goers alike for decades for its desecration, is today the inheritor of the MGM/United Artists franchise which released all 20 legitimate Bond films, which is why it is distributing the new cinematic avatar of `Casino Royale.'

Sharp departure

The book's cinematic second coming sticks to the novel's plot in most respects, but in other ways `Bond 21' is a sharp departure from the series' signature style that remained a mixture of girls, guns, gadgets, spoof, and clever innuendo-laden dialogue. Daniel Craig, the sixth actor to assume the 007 licence to kill, is at 38, 15 years younger than Pierce Brosnan who played the role four times. His persona is more steely than suave. The Bond Girl this time is French actress Eva Green. She plays Vesper Lynd a British Treasury official who has been attached to Bond to see that he does not waste the $10 millions provided to him to beat the evil money launderer, Le Chiffre (Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen) at a high stakes game of poker. "In this film James Bond is a darker character, which is how Ian Fleming wrote him, a loner, he doesn't get involved with people," says Craig. The pivotal card game at Le Casino Royale — shifted in the film from the French Riviera to the fictional Montenegro — takes place when the film is past the one-hour mark. Dispatched by `M,' played for the fifth time by Judi Dench, to the Bahamas (a throwback to the first Bond film, `Dr No') to take on Le Chiffre, the scene shifts rapidly to Madagascar, Nassau and Miami, with major action sequences. Recalled to action after he delivered the 1995 Bond film, `Golden Eye,' director Martin Campbell's presence at the helm is assurance that action-wise the neo-Bond can still be trusted to showcase much of its $100 million-budget upfront.

New trend

The book and the film feature Bond at the receiving end in a nasty torture scene which is too excruciating for the laid back style of this series. Not any more: Bond has been rebooted for a gritty new era, where the lakshman rekha of on-screen violence has long since been crossed. The cool, calculating Vesper Lynd, too is in keeping with the new trend. She engages Bond in sharp exchanges rather than bedroom athletics. For weeks now satellite cable TV viewers in India have been offered a rerun of all the classic Bond films. The entire genre is available in CDs and DVDs. Will a new Bond, retooled for the 21st century, continue the momentum that began in 1962, when an unknown actor named Sean Connery first donned the tuxedo? The next few weeks will tell as `Casino Royale' is unleashed on the Indian public with an all time high 500 theatre prints.The Bond sagaDr. No (1962): The first Bond film starring Sean Connery. Directed by Terence Young, it introduced Ursula Andress. From Russia With Love (1963): Connery and Young team up again. Goldfinger (1964): Connery directed by Guy Hamilton. Thunderball (1965): Director Terence Young returns. You Only Live Twice (1967): Connery.On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969): George Lazenby's only film as Bond. Diamonds Are Forever (1971): Sean Connery returns, directed by Guy Hamilton. Live And Let Die (1973): Roger Moore makes his debut as Bond.The Man With The Golden Gun (1974): Roger Moore with Guy Hamilton at the helm. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): Roger Moore, directed by Lewis Gilbert. Moonraker (1979): Lewis Gilbert again directs Moore. For Your Eyes Only (1981): John Glen directs Moore. Octopussy (1983): Moore. A View To A Kill (1985): The final Roger Moore film. The Living Daylights (1987): Timothy Dalton's debut as Bond.Licence To Kill (1989): Kiss-off for Timothy Dalton and director John Glen. Goldeneye (1995): Pierce Brosnan is the new Bond with Martin Campbell as director. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997): Brosnan with co-star Michelle Yeoh.The World Is Not Enough (1999): Brosnan. Die Another Day (2002): Brosnan with Halle Berry. Casino Royale (2006): Daniel Craig's debut has him playing a grittier, more hard-edged Bond.