As Kabir Bedi becomes a knight, he rewinds his journey
What a voice, what personality, what elegance! Style gurus say He doesn't make men like Kabir Bedi any more. As one of India's best known face in the European entertainment industry, Bedi is being bestowed with the honour of Cavaliere (Knight) of the Order “Al Merito della Repubblica Italiana”, the highest ranking civilian honour of the Italian Republic this evening.
“One more (k)night in shining armour…wish I had a few castles,” quips Bedi as he settles for a chat. Kabir Bedi's association with Italy goes back a long way starting with the enormous success of his Sandokan TV series in 1976. He finds various similarities between Indians and Italians. “They also talk a lot through their hands. They also cherish family values, love their food and are hospitable like us. Unlike Anglo Saxons who see us a colony, Italians are more interested in the spiritual and mystical side of India.”
Born to a Sikh father and a Christian mother, Bedi says a lot of credit to what he is today goes to his eclectic education in some of the best institutions – Delhi Public School, Sherwood and St. Stephen's College. “At home nobody was interested in films but there was a strong cultural flavour. Apart from the influence of Sikh tradition there was a Buddhist influence as well as my mother had turned to Tibetan Buddhism.”
Bedi started his career as an advertising professional where he came in contact with Alyque Padamsee, who gave him an opportunity to play Tughlaq in Girish Karnad's famous play. “It turned the tide for me as I started getting film offers. Hulchul was my first film but I was noticed with Kachhe Dhaage.”
Around that time, an Italian crew was in India searching for Sandokan, a fictional pirate of the late nineteenth century. “They were looking for an Asian actor for the role of Sandokan and their first stop was Bombay. They found my personality fit for the Asian pirate who took on the British and fell in love with an English girl.”
Bedi, who supports the freedom struggle in Myanmar, says it sounded like the story of his father who was a freedom fighter and married an English girl. “It wasn't difficult to internalise the character. I was asked to come to Rome for audition on my own. I did and was selected. Soon Sandokan became part of Italian folklore like Mahabharat in India and I became a star across Europe.” But it also resulted in him getting typecast. “Filmmakers could not see me in any other role. It took me a long time to break the mould. Meantime I tried my luck in Hollywood. I got roles (as Gobinda in Octopussy being the highlight), I was on the list of major casting directors but unlike Europe there I was just a solid working actor.”
Did he ever think of changing his name? “I did, particularly when I saw the rise of Ben Kingsley. He told me when he changed his name from Krishna Bhanji to Ben the producers' reaction quickly changed from ‘we will get back to you' to ‘when we could start'. But then I was in love with my name and country. My parents were no ordinary people. My mother turned Gandhian and my father was a staunch communist. They named me after the great saint as a symbol of communal harmony. You know my brother was named Ranga after The Hindu editor who helped my parents get married in Oxford after there was a furore over their relation.”
He missed out on a Bollywood career in the quest for international acclaim. “Yes, but then I never saw myself fitting into the role of a Bollywood hero as I could not sing and dance. It is not that I don't like it. In fact, it is something that makes ours films special but I couldn't see myself doing it. But Indian film industry has always welcomed me with open arms. When Rakesh Roshan called me for Khoon Bhari Maang it was supposed to be a six month shoot but I ended up staying for four years doing 12 films.”
Talking about Oscars and Indian actors' fascination for working in Hollywood, Bedi, who is a voting member of Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, says these are two sets of issues. “We should realise that Hollywood is not obliged to write roles for Asian actors. “How many roles do we write for foreigners? But as far as Oscars are concerned one should vie for the highest honour in cinema.”
After finishing second in the Italian version of Survivors, he is back with SaharaOne's Ganga Ki Dheej because he says Indian television was the only medium missing from his repertoire. “Earlier they could not pay my fees. Also the series raises real issues. Reality shows are fine but when it comes to serials, we should not ape the West. We have enough local issues to weave stories.” Up next is an Indo-Italian film that he we will produce. “Then I am doing Aravaan, my first Tamil film with Vasantabalan's…My plate is full!”
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