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Kabir Bedi opens up on his success in Europe, Hollywood & Bollywood

Kabir Bedi: Every actor wants to go to Hollywood. And the risk I took was huge. It is not easy to go there

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Kabir Bedi, one of the first Indian actors to garner International fame, was the chief guest at a virtual session of Write Circle organised by Prabha Khaitan Foundation. Preeti Gill, independent literary agent, engaged the International star to share the highs & lows of his colourful and tumultuous life. The session was introduced by Deepika Goyal and centred around Kabir Bedi’s book ‘Stories I Must Tell’, which is a window to the actor’s roller-coaster life of glamour and the bitter-sweet lessons that life taught him.

“I wanted to write my story because I have a very interesting life with extraordinary highs and lows. I had great tragedies, many milestones, many mistakes and I thought this story is worth sharing. There comes a time in life whether to tell your story or don’t. I think it is the story that needs to be told and I like to tell my story also with the rumours and gossip that followed me for most of my life across three continents,” said Kabir Bedi.

Commenting on his life’s turning point, Kabir Bedi said, “You know that quote ‘when you close one door, other doors remain open in front of you’ this is covered in my first chapter. When I had interviewed The Beatles in Delhi and the All India Radio treated my interview so badly, I was so deeply wounded that I ended my relationship with them. That became a turning point. I closed the door behind me and other doors opened.”

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He continued saying, “Then I think what the hell am I going to do? The story is about my larger journey. Emotional territories that I had to traverse to become an actor. I have given an overall graph of that journey. I signed films without knowing too much about the industry which made me a professional actor. Then the Italians came and they took me to Rome for a screen test. The role of ‘Sandokan’ made me a major star in Europe. Next I went on to America and the set of the James Bond film.”

When Bedi was asked – do you think you are an unlikely actor for Bollywood?

“Yes, I was an unlikely Bollywood actor because I came from the theatre and I fancied myself as a serious actor who did not want to do song and dance numbers and that is one of the qualifications of being a leading man in Bollywood. So that certainly was something that would have blocked my career in some way had the Italians not come and take me away to Italy.”

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“But I must say I have to thank Bollywood for the things it gave me. It made me a professional actor. When I went abroad and spent most of my life abroad, yet when I came back and did Bollywood films, that was a part of my resurrection from an extremely difficult situation I was in. I was not the role model for Bollywood actors because of my peculiar attitude to song and dance routines,” Bedi said.

Responding to a question on how difficult it was getting roles after leaving India, Kabir Bedi said, “Hollywood was the real challenge. I was an established star in Europe and right there they didn’t know about my success and they didn’t care about my success. I was like a newcomer auditioning for roles and I did it. Two things happened. I got myself a role but playing foreigners in general. I was cast in an Indian role in Hollywood when I did the James Bond film. I played a villain in ‘Octopussy’. So it was always a challenge but I must thank Hollywood for the worldwide fame it gave me.”

Italy, however, was different, “I certainly was the first actor who came from India and became a major star across the whole of Europe. The journey in Italy was quite magical. When the Italians came to Bombay and they met me they said, “Will you come to Rome at your cost?” I thought this could save me from singing and dancing in films. So I accepted that without a pause, went to Rome. I did the audition and I got the role.”

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“Nobody could possibly imagine the kind of success that followed. When I looked at the magazine stand opposite our hotel we were on the cover of virtually every single magazine and featured in every paper. Police battled through weeks to clear the street, normalise the traffic flowing again in the road in front of our hotel. When I went to a plant in Turin, workers left their assembly lines, came and mobbed me. Italy’s most respected magazines said I brought the star craze back to Italy,” Bedi said.

“It was always very clear to me, no matter what success I had abroad I had to come back to India. Italy gave me more respect than any other country in the world. They gave me the highest civilian honour. Every actor wants to go to Hollywood. And the risk I took was huge. It is not easy to go there; it is expensive to live there. Even in my Hollywood days I knew I would come back to India,” he said.

Bedi feels he was blessed to have an Indian father and English mother who was hand picked by Gandhi ji as a Satyagrahi. Bedi has talked about his relationship with the Gandhi family, the Beatles, relationship with Parveen Babi and his crazy unending fan following in the West. The Book also features interesting episodes on the Dalai Lama, his parents’ meeting with Subhas Chandra Bose in Nazi Germany and so on.

Commenting on the difference between Hollywood and Bollywood, Bedi said that Hollywood plans for long and shoots quickly. In India we tend to shoot for a longer period of time. But it is to the credit of Indian actors that they can still turn out credible performances acting in various films at the same time.

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