Octopussy was the 13th in the ongoing series by Eon Productions about the British secret agent, 007. As suave British actor Roger Moore’s sixth outing as superspy, James Bond, the film was inspired by a short story written by Fleming in 1966.
The screenplay was adapted for modern audiences. Moore had been playing the MI6 agent since 1973, when he first appeared as Bond in The Man with the Golden Gun. He took over the role from his predecessor, Sean Connery, who left the franchise in 1971.
The series of 007 films began in 1962 with Dr No, continuing for more than five decades until the most recent film to date, Spectre, in 2015. One thing they have in common is their all-action fight scenes, with Bond disposing of the villains in many innovative ways.
Over the years, 007 has kicked, punched and shot the bad guys, set them on fire, blown them up, thrown them off high buildings, blown them out of airplanes, fed them to sharks and thought up many other ways of dispatching his foes.
Perhaps one of the oddest fight scenes occurs in Octopussy, when our hero and his ally are travelling in a rickshaw using a tennis racket to fight off the bad guys!
If this seems an unusual weapon, and perhaps a less effective one than a gun or bomb, but the explanation is in the nature of the film. Although all of the Bond movies had a smattering of humour, Moore tended to play the role with rather more comedic elements than his predecessor, Connery.
Octopussy was famous for having a professional tennis player, Vijay Amritraj, as one of its stars. Amritraj was once number 16 in the world tennis rankings and won 16 singles and 13 doubles titles during his career. He was still playing regularly when he met James Bond producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli in 1982 at Wimbledon.
Broccoli approached Amritraj and asked if he would be interested in doing a screen test for the role of Vijay, Bond’s MI6 ally in India, in Octopussy. Amritraj said he didn’t think he’d get the role, but thought it would be fun to do a screen test for a James Bond film, as well as playing at Wimbledon, so he agreed.
He was thrilled to be offered the role, although he had to break off during filming to play in the Davis Cup tennis championship in the Soviet Union! He became good friends with Moore during filming and the two of them would swap stories about the movie world and the tennis circuit.
Hence the script contained several tennis jokes, including the famous chase scene when Vijay rescues Bond from a gang of bloodthirsty assailants by whisking him off in a Tuk Tuk taxi through an Indian outdoor market. In one memorable scene, one of the villains is knocked out when a tennis racket is smashed over his head.
Vijay hits the racket on his skull with such force that all of the strings snap and the villain’s head pops up through the metal frame, bringing a whole new meaning to the tennis term, “smash” shot.
In an interview, Amritraj said the close bond and understanding that grew between him and Moore was what got him through the rickshaw scene. It was no ordinary Tuk Tuk, but rather a customised alternative that had been specially made, with plenty of horsepower.
Amritraj practiced on it for three days before filming, as he did his own stunts and had to do a wheelie in the vehicle, with Moore as a passenger. He admitted it was “a lot of pressure” but Moore made sure he felt comfortable.
As the chase continued and Amritraj hit the villain with a tennis racket, he said it got a big laugh when Octopussy premiered at Leicester Square, just before Wimbledon 1983. He felt that a lot of people in the tennis fraternity were in awe that he had won his first acting role in a James Bond film. He and Moore remained close friends after filming.
Amritraj enjoyed a career in acting after he retired from the professional tennis circuit, winning a role as a starship captain in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and appearing in two American sitcoms, The Last Precinct and What a Country.
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