And Bob's your uncle!

Wearing many hats From mercenary to SAS operative, Bollywood villain, and now writer, Bob's done them all Photo: Murali Kumar K.  

I f in real life he introduced himself “My name is Bond, James Bond,” you would embrace Bob Christo as he is. His real life avatar is adventurous and romantic unlike his Bollywood self where he played the nameless villain bashing up sidekicks and acting gobsmacked himself.

For everyone who's wondering where he disappeared a few years ago, Bob's very much in Bangalore. He's 72, is putting the finishing touches to his autobiography tentatively titled Bob Christo: That's My Life (to be published by Penguin), and an active book club member. He shuttles between Mumbai (where his Indian wife and youngest son live) and Bangalore.

“Every 25 years I need a change,” is the reason he gives for quitting films in 2000. Till 2006, he was director of health and fitness, and yoga instructor at Sanjay Khan's Golden Palms Spa and Resort on Bangalore's outskirts. In true filmy fashion, Christo does a flashback of his life — not necessarily in order. But in spurts and stops he gives a peek into the book he's writing, “86,000 words — it took me one year to write”, he says sometimes struggling hard to fish out details.

His first Hindi film was Abdullah, yes. But his first ever film was a German film when he was 16! He's also done stunts in Hollywood, before he came to Bollywood. A civil engineer from Sydney, Bob says he begins his book in South Africa, where he landed from South Vietnam.

Cut. Scene One.

“In South Vietnam I was building bridges…I was in charge of a team of mercenaries,” he says, using it as a teaser for our curiosity and saying “Read all the details in my book!”

Cut. Scene two.

Many Russian ships are anchoring off the coast of Mozambique. Christo has sunk two Russian ships “because they (Russians) would give away weapons to the Africans who finally took over Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)”. He was in the Australian Army and consequently in the SAS, the Special Air Services of in Rhodesia. A bit puzzled, I ask what he was doing there. “Oh…a lot of reasons…love and death, I wanted to get married to a Phillipino…read it all in my book.”

“I did a lot of ramp modelling in South Africa and Hong Kong. I learnt martial arts from a Japanese teacher. I would wake in the morning, go to the beach and go windsurfing… then moving on, people in Seychelles wanted me to overthrow their government.”

Cut. Scene three.

“Don't write the story about my first coming to India to meet Parveen Babi…everyone knows that story,” he declares. “When I came to India, I didn't think of acting in Hindi films, but when good friends Babi and Sanjay Khan said ‘Why don't you stay back for a little while?' I did.” It was Sanjay Khan who insisted Bob play the tantrik in Abdullah. And it was Sanjay who insisted “You must be bald.” “He assured me that once I shaved it, my hair would grow back thick,” he smiles. Then in every film, he was asked to shave his head. “Now it doesn't grow at all!” he says in exasperation, pointing to his head.

Christo ended up acting in over 200 films here, including films in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, acting with everyone from Amitabh Bachchan to Rajnikanth. “During the making of Abdullah I asked the assistant director to teach me Hindi; he taught me to read the script too. He also taught me Urdu. Now I can sign autographs in Hindi, Urdu and can write my name in Tamil. I also speak German and Australian (slang),” claims the proud polyglot.

He had gone off films for a bit even refusing to watch his own. “I've started watching films again only now. I see them on TV.” When he goes to his Juhu house in Mumbai, he catches up with Mithun Chakroborty and Tom Alter.

Ever felt like the “outsider”? “No! I've always felt at home. I've been in India for 36 years now and I'll feel happy dying in India.”

You can't miss the lovely gold ring on his fingers with his initials — his wedding ring. “You know someone asked me once, ‘Ah.. is that for Bob Christo?' and I said it's a wedding ring that warns ‘Be Careful!'”