America did not see it nor did Great Britain. It was a James Bond movie that released only in India, and behind that privilege lies a little story of friendship and paranoia.
The year was 1967, and unlike now when Russia is playing footsie with Pakistan, it was an era of deep Indo-Russian kisses. We are talking James Bond movies, aren’t we?
It was the year ‘From Russia With Love’ came to India — four years late, of course. Sean Connery played the lead and cash registers had already rung across the world. But the Soviets — USSR — had a problem. They thought the movie did not “project the real character of the Soviet people”. And they were keen that their friends didn’t show or see USSR in a denigratory light either.
So the Soviets made a representation to Government of India through their embassy in New Delhi. They wanted India to do something in the name of love, friendship and all that.
What did India do?
We were in a bind, for we loved both Russia and Bond — more on the latter in a moment.
We reasoned with the Soviets that “the film was based on a book of fiction, which could not be taken as factual”. But to satisfy them we made a hilarious concession. After reviewing the film under the Cinematograph Act of 1952, the government ordered its name changed to ‘From 007 With Love’. All references to Russia were also deleted. If you saw the censored film those days you might want to order a DVD now.
Coming back to India’s affair with Bond, the ’60s were also a time when a lot of noise was made about “the social effect of such films”. But the Indian government stood by Her Majesty’s favourite spy.
“Government… have entrusted the task to Central Board of Film Censors who take all such factors into consideration,” minister for information and broadcasting K K Shah told Parliament on March 14, 1968. “These films go under the Light Entertainment category and were subjected to the usual process of certification under the Indian Cinematograph Act.”
James Bond movies were not cheap to screen even half a century ago. India imported five of them during 1957–67 under an agreement with Motion Picture Exporters’ Association of America for a total foreign exchange cost of Rs 2.5 million a year. Strangely, only three were screened in that period— Dr No, From 007 With Love, and Goldfinger.