Free thought. Free spirit. Free love. Kabir Bedi was associated with the cultural counterpart of the flower power movement that seduced the West in the late 1960s. Embracing his social and sexual liberation, Kabir and his wife Protima Gauri were among the earliest converts in India. Although their open marriage eventually lifted the curtains on their relationship, Kabir’s life since then has been a travelogue of emotions and experiences.
An air of Greek god, bourbon eyes and a baritone that would silence any chatter… Kabir Bedi’s exoticism propelled him onto the world stage. While his heroic pirate in Sandokan is part of Italian folklore, his Gobinda in James Bond’s Octopussy and his turn in the American soap opera The Bold And The Beautiful remain at the forefront among many such releases.
A tumultuous affair with Parveen Babi, short-lived marriages to Susan Humphreys and Nikki Bedi and finally vows to the much younger Parveen Dusanj…just a day before his 70th birthday…only underline that Kabir is passionate about life, someone one who wisely turned setbacks into memories… Excerpts:
Your book, Stories I Must Tell: The Emotional Journey Of An Actor, won Amazon India’s Most Popular Book Award of 2021 in the biographies section…
My book talks about my strengths and weaknesses, my milestones and my mistakes with great candor. Obviously, this struck a chord. This is the story of my journey, including my interview with the Beatles as a small journalist, joining Bollywood, making the blockbuster Sandokan in Italy, moving to Hollywood… It also reveals the huge setbacks in the middle of my life, my bankruptcy in Hollywood, and how I came back to life.
When it comes to memoirs, I had tremendous competition as there were also books by Priyanka Chopra (Unfinished: A Memoir) and Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra (The Stranger In The Mirror co-written by Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta) in biography category. I thank them for their generous support. Priyanka, in fact, graciously launched my book.
Can we expect more books from you?
In this book, I just focused on the transformational experiences, the turning points, the crucial relationships. There were other notable stories that I had to omit. Now that I have received such recognition, I would like to tell other stories of my life.
Was it cathartic to put pen to paper?
I healed in a way, I cried in a way, I found closure in a lot of things. Writing the book was an emotional experience. In fact, the book’s subtitle is: An Actor’s Emotional Journey. I expressed everything through the prism of emotion.
You are going to celebrate your 76th birthday… Do you feel young?
In my mind, I never made it past 50. (Laughs) In spirit, I’m still 25 years old. Spiritually, I am 5000 years old. So you can calculate my age as you wish. Every year, I celebrate my ’50 years’. I am perpetually living the golden age of my life. I believe my best is yet to come.
You are one of the rare actors who have worked on three continents…
I was the first Bollywood actor to make a career in Europe with the Italian TV series Sandokan (1976). Italy has done me an immense honor. In Hollywood, I did the American series The Bold And The Beautiful (1994) and the James Bond film, Octopussy (1983), all of which brought me worldwide recognition. It is immensely rewarding. The biggest challenge was the fact that the roles of South Asian actors weren’t written at that time. I’m glad that has changed. Today, actors like Priyanka Chopra are reaching new heights. It is a great pride.
Was your gorgeous appearance a hindrance in Bollywood because initially people refused to look beyond that?
In fact, it was me who decided to go beyond Bollywood. After my first films Hulchal, Rakhi Aur Hathkadi, Sazaa, Kuchhe Dhaage, Manzilein Aur Bhi Hain, Nagin… in the 70s, I decided to go international. When the Italians came to Mumbai looking for the iconic Sandokan, I did everything in my power to win that audition. It made me a big star in Europe.
That said, I’m forever grateful to Bollywood for giving me opportunities over the years. My most successful film, Khoon Bhari Maang (1988), happened in the middle of my Hollywood years. Director Rakesh Roshan reminded me of Honolulu, Hawaii, where I was filming the Magnum PI TV series with Tom Selleck. Yalgaar (1992) was a great tribute to my friend Feroz Khan. Ashutosh Gowariker gave me the powerful role of an evil emperor in Mohenjo Daro (2016).
Do you attribute your extraordinary trajectory to being a rebel?
I was kind of a rebel, always pushing the boundaries of what was expected of me. As children of the 60s, we were influenced by the “flower power” movement, the social, sexual and cultural revolutions happening all over the world. We wanted to be symbols of that in India. This led to many interesting situations including my marriage to Protima (Bedi) in 1969 and my relationship with Parveen Babi. I told everything in my book, with heart and without fuss. I am a writer by nature. I write directly but evocatively.
Were you and Protima too independent of each other?
Protima was a remarkable woman. She was a force of nature, indomitable in many ways. I had my own idea of what I wanted to do. So we were both strong individuals. We got married very young and grew up together. It was a coming of age for both of us. Our normal marriage turned into an open marriage. We were both going in different directions. What happens in this situation is mentioned in my book. Nevertheless, it was a huge experience and learning for us. Above all, we had two beautiful children (actor Pooja Bedi and the late Siddharth Bedi) for whom I am forever grateful.
What has Parveen Babi brought to your life?
Parveen was an extremely sensitive and intelligent woman. She had a great capacity to love. What happened to him is extremely tragic. She gave me tremendous love, a sense of oneness and yet the cloud of her deteriorating mental state hung over us. The tragedy of his mental illness was unfolding as I went through my biggest hit in Europe, Sandokan. It was a difficult time for me. But at the same time, I thank her for the many things she gave me, including love.
Usually when someone has a nervous breakdown, it’s easy to blame the partner. Doesn’t such a partner also need compassion?
Of course, the suffering needs compassion just like the helper, the person who lives with him. In a sense, caregivers suffer much more when they have to face a new reality and try to adapt to it. They give a great part of their life in order to improve the lives of the afflicted.
Danny Denzongpa, Mahesh Bhatt and you, the three men Parveen was involved with, joined his quiet funeral…
Parveen deserved that respect. Well, we shared her life and she shared ours. Deep down, we cared deeply for her even though we couldn’t prevent her depression.
Despite your bohemian image, were your subsequent marriages to fashion designer Susan Humphreys and actress/presenter Nikki Bedi an attempt to find emotional permanence?
I was looking for a love that resonated with me. I found it in various forms. But it wasn’t until I married Parveen Dusanj that I found the love I was looking for. My search for love ended with Parveen Dusanj.
Your marriage to Parveen Dusanj (January 2016), your fourth, a day before your 70th birthday speaks of your optimism…
(Laughs) I try to be positive about everything in life. You can choose to live your life lamenting what you don’t have and everything that has gone wrong. Or you can be grateful for what you have and enjoy the moment.
How has the meaning of love changed for you over time?
Love, like God, is the most used and abused word. Everyone has their own idea. But at the heart of it, love is camaraderie and mutual respect. That’s what lasts. My parents, Baba Pyare Lal Singh Bedi and Freda Bedi, went from revolutionaries to religious. Even as spiritual figures, they followed different paths. My mother became a Buddhist nun and my father a philosopher in Italy. Yet there has always been a deep love and respect between them, even when they were divided by continents and creeds. It is the definition of love in its highest and purest form.
The most painful experience you wrote about was losing your 25-year-old son, Siddharth, to schizophrenia in 1997. How did that change your outlook on life?
Buddhism speaks of the impermanence of everything in life. It’s just a concept until you actually experience it in the death of a brilliant son with technical acumen. Siddharth was an alumnus of Carnegie Mellon University and had the world ahead of him. You realize that life comes in different forms and that impermanence is central to it. It makes you realize the value of relationships, health, and life itself. You begin to appreciate the things you used to take for granted.
Would you say you are a pilgrim in the making – much like your parents?
I have always been a pilgrim. All religions give us wonderful human values to live by. But philosophically, they point out different things. Some speak of reincarnation, others of a single life, others of destiny, others of free will… What is the truth about our existence? This question has stayed with me all my life. I sought answers from gurus, books, religions… What I came to believe, I put in my book.
Does your granddaughter, Alaya F, make you proud?
Parenthood comes with responsibility. Children should be brought up with values and taught what is right and what is wrong. But the grandchildren (Alaya F and Omar Furniturewala) are to be appreciated. I’m immensely proud of both, especially Alaya. Presenting him with the Filmfare Award for Best Debut (Jawaani Jaaneman 2020) was an emotional moment in my life. I’m sure she’s destined to be a good actress.
What’s new next?
In addition to being part of the Grande Fratello, the Italian version of the Big Brother reality TV show, I filmed for a a few projects in India including the Telugu epic Shaakuntalam by Gunasekhar, The Jangipur Trial by Debaditya Bandopadhyay with Bengali actor Shatabadi Roy and Baa with Neena Gupta.