Few things in literature are as sensational as a movie star’s autobiography. We’re in the season of some greats: Sharon Stone to Priyanka Chopra, the celebrity memoirs are a talking point like it hasn’t been in a while. Kabir Bedi’s memoirs also do everything you’d expect from a tell-all of this nature: forgotten terrain is traced with candor as he passes on the story of his “make, break, and recreate”.
As an actor, storyteller and the original crossover star, Bedi was a dashing figure on screen and on stage for most of the latter half of the 20th century. Besides being a consummate artist – Khoon Bhari Maang Octopussy The bald and the handsome Sandokan and much more – he has lived a rich and colorful life, never quite up to standard.
Now Bedi takes it all into account in his evocative memoirs, Stories I Must Tell: An Actor’s Emotional JourneyA seasoned storyteller, he provides entertaining vignettes about his early life in Delhi: the time when he worked his way into interviewing The Beatles for All India Radio; what it was like to grow up as the son of freedom fighters who became spiritual leaders; his early beginnings in advertising and his enduring love for theater. But in it you may also find a snapshot of the entertainment industry as it operated on a global scale before the Internet took over.
Kabir with Roger Moore in it Octopussy (Image: Courtesy of Kabir Bedi)
What prompted you to write these memoirs?
For the past 10 years, I’ve been trying to get it out, but I didn’t know how to tell. At the beginning of last year, I got hints on how to do this. The moment I realized that, it flowed like a river. I sat down and wrote it in the space of 6 months, spent 2 months reviewing it and then had the book I wanted. I have not adopted the linear form, because I find that quite boring. I did it as a series of stories that overlap in time. It gave me the freedom to explore every scene and tell it truthfully.
When was the cover portrait taken?
This was recorded in the late 1970’s when I was in my early 30’s. Today, Annie Leibovitz is the world’s most famous celebrity photographer. At the time, it was Terry O’Neill who had shot The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Elton John, members of British royalty. Everyone wanted a picture of Terry O’Neill and he agreed to shoot me. He took this photo and said, “Kabir, I’ve taken a lot of photos, but this one is really special.” I have had it with me in my archives ever since. When it came time to choose a book cover, my wife Parveen knew right away that this was it.
Kabir as Sandokan (Image: Courtesy of Kabir Bedi)
Italy and Sandokan feature prominently in your life story, a source of great success and joy. What do you think of Sandokan, the fairly important figure of 19th-century Italian literature?
Sandokan was the beautiful creation of Emilio Salgari, who wrote these books, which were read by everyone in Italy and all over Europe. Even the great Latin American writers, Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes read it; even Che Guevara had read it in his youth. Sandokan was quite an iconic figure, almost like the Robinhood of Italy, but it was set in the context of an Asian pirate fighting British colonialism.
In a very strange way is the story of Sandokan parallels the story of my mom and dad, because they both fought against British colonialism, both gave up so much in their lives when they could have gotten so much more. Sandokan also represents every man’s desire to be free, to live for the ideals you believe in. It was my honor, an unknown Indian actor, to be cast in this role by Sergio Sollima.
The aftermath of the success of Sandokan must be my favorite memory of Italy – where the streets were full of fans in Via Veneto, crowds all over Italy, girls yelling at me – “I want your baby!” [laughs]
Kabir, Omar Shariff, Michael Caine, Peter Ustinov in Ashanti (Image: Courtesy of Kabir Bedi)
As an actor, what difference have you found between Hollywood and Bollywood?
It’s a completely different culture, especially at that time. Because the film industry in Bollywood at the time was a small family of firms building close relationships with stars and doing business on a very casual basis. Hollywood has always been more business-like, more formal, better prepared and planned. Things are getting more business-like here and there is some degree of convergence. But in the end, Bollywood will always be more innovative and improvisational than Hollywood could ever be.
You have spoken for a long time about your personal life and relationships, about Protima, Parveen Babi, your son Siddharth. How challenging was it to be so open and vulnerable on paper?
It’s always difficult to write about things from the past. I told myself that when I write about women I’ve known and loved, and relationships I’ve had, I should be as sincere as I can and tell the truth about what happened. There are many things you will want to leave behind, but they are all part of my life, so it makes sense to share it with everyone. It wasn’t easy, but at the end of the day I had to do it, and it was almost cathartic.
Stories I Must Tell: An Actor’s Emotional Journey will be released on April 19 (Westland Publications)
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