Stories I Must Tell: The Emotional Journey Of An Actor is not at all an ageing celebrity’s nostalgic autobiography. It reads like a romcom, an action movie, a documentary and a tragedy, all melting into the narrative arc of the life of an actor.
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In this intimate self-portrait, the actor ponders on spirituality and the meaning of life while chatting with Federico Fellini, running into Audrey Hepburn at a party, dancing with Gina Lollobrigida, and enjoying the golden years of Bollywood. The stories Kabir Bedi tells are those of a lover, husband, father, son, an international actor for theatre, cinema and television, who doesn’t fear crossing into the contemporary by participating in a reality show.
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What is most impressive from the start is Bedi’s voice in this fast-paced book that is packed with life choices and lessons, ups and downs, details and revelations. The narrative voice he uses to tell the story of 75 years of life, from Bollywood to Hollywood via Cinecittà, the Italian chapter of Bedi’s stardom, wastes little time, and is sharp and courageously honest. Excerpts from an interview
Why ‘emotional journey’ as a subtitle?
Because my life has been a roller-coaster of emotions. Changing relationships, changing financial fortunes, changing cities and continents all create enormous emotional upheavals. My book is the story of the tumultuous life I’ve lived.
You start off by telling how you interviewed the Beatles when you were 20 years old. How important is it to expose yourself to opportunity?
My interview with the Beatles was the biggest thrill of my life as a young man. I was their biggest fan. Getting through to them, when every journalist in Delhi had failed, was because I was smart and very determined. When you see a challenge as ‘do or die’, you do find a way. And I did!
So, you are saying that you have had to build your own opportunities. But how can you improve those useful chance encounters in life?
Chance encounters are like miracles, they just happen. You can’t plan them, or will them to happen. Strangely, I didn’t want to build on the chance encounter with my first wife, Protima. But she did, with great determination too. So that chance encounter changed my life forever. For better or for worse, let the readers decide. It was transformative for me.
You talk of transformations and betrayals, of open marriage, running naked on the beach… do you think today’s generation has more hang-ups or fewer?
Today’s generation, and their morality, is far more fluid than in the 70s. But we were the bohemians of our age who challenged social norms. Even living together was considered scandalous at that time. Open marriage was considered outrageous. And Protima’s running naked on the beach as a publicity stunt for a magazine shocked everyone to the core. It would even today.
The movie industry has changed a lot since. What is your opinion of Bollywood’s transformation?
The biggest transformation in Bollywood is the money they pay the big stars. It’s gone up astronomically. The second biggest change has been the producers. In those days, producers were family firms that built close relationships with the stars. Today, Bollywood is more corporate in the way it operates. The third biggest transformation is that actors get bound scripts. We only ever got “narrations”, tailored to the ego of the actor who was listening.
There are great lessons for actors in your book. How to act just by thinking, how to act with your shoulders… Should one of them be: do not marry an actor if you’re an actor?
From what I’ve seen, it’s best if actors don’t marry actors. Two divas living under one roof doesn’t augur well for peace in the house. Besides, most actors’ incomes are irregular, which creates stresses that affect the relationship. But there are some notable exceptions. There are many lessons for actors in my book and I hope they learn from my mistakes. The examples you quote were my director’s instructions to me for the role of Sandokan (in the eponymous Italian TV mini-series, 1976), which led to a performance that made me a star across Europe. But they are not rules for every role.
Your book also delves into your relationship with religion and mysticism. How important has spirituality been in your life?
Many streams of spirituality have run through my life. Sikhism from my father, who was a descendant of Guru Nanak. Buddhism from my mother, who became the highest ranking nun in Tibetan Buddhism. Christianity from the schools where I studied. New-age Indian philosophers like Jiddu Krishnamurti, Osho and Deepak Chopra. And many other preachers, writers and thinkers. Hinduism is the ethos in which I grew up and it gave me many answers. I was always in search of “the truth”. There is a whole chapter in my memoir that is about my spiritual journey and what I’ve learned in the end.
There is another chapter, ‘Saving my son, the wounded soul’, which is such a heartbreaking story. What advice do you have for other such parents?
‘Saving my son’ was a very difficult chapter to write. With schizophrenia, the person you see is not the person you knew. Something deep has changed within them. I feel very deeply for families who live with someone suffering from it. The only advice I can give them is to never stop loving them. Your love is felt by them, even if their behaviour is difficult to understand.
What have you tried to tell the world through your story?
I want to say that you can take the road less travelled and survive, even thrive. It may not be easy, it may not give you everything you want but, at the end of the day, you will have lived a life that is unique and, hopefully, fulfilling. For all my successes, I faced ruin too. But I resurrected myself each time.
The interviewer’s most recent book is Bending Over Backwards: A Journey to the End of the World to Find a Cure for a Chronic Backache.