Kabir Bedi: A star that dazzled abroad but glimmered faintly at home

On Kabir Bedi 74th birthday on January 16, Monojit Lahiri attempts a quick trip down memory lane to trace the life of a dazzler who, while celebrated on foreign shores, was constantly ignored at home

Kabir Bedi: A star that dazzled abroad but glimmered faintly at home
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Monojit Lahiri

Mention Kabir Bedi and the new-gen will mostly go – Kabir who?? The Sherwood School and St Stephens College hunk with looks and physique to kill, ironically just couldn’t translate his killer presence to our screen, with any degree of popular success ... and he is the first one to acknowledge it. The Star Model, Theatre, Screen & Radio personality never ever wanted to get into the movies as an actor, but as a director. However, when popular comedian & filmmaker OP Ralhan zeroed in on him for Hulchul (1971), he reckoned – being an adventurist – what the hell, let’s go with the flow!

Across the decades, he acted in over 60 Bollywood films, but with the exception of Raj Khosla’s Kachche Dhaage (1973), Nav Ketan’s Bullet (1976) & Rakesh Roshan’s Khoon Bhari Maang (1988), alas, Bedi created not even the remotest hulchul, ever! Intelligent and realistic, the gorgeous dude explains his Bollywood innings with impressive clarity & objectivity. “While direction was my basic objective, I thought since one only lives once, why not give acting a shot? If my early films didn’t quite make the grade, there were good reasons. For one, the 70’s Bollywood template of romancing around the trees and mouthing melodramatic lines were really a planet away from my theatre work and I was most uncomfortable. I guess it showed in my performances. Also, I didn’t quite look like the boy-next-door, so there was a huge identification problem for audiences. Also, my choice of films ... so everything considered, it didn’t work out as expected. I think if I started today, it would be a totally different scene because the audience has evolved and welcome fresh content & unconventional faces. Talent – not stereotype – rules!”

We move to his biggest hit ever, Sandokan! While he was going through the motions in Bollywood and waiting for a worthwhile role to showcase his brand of talent, providence struck in the shape of the Italian production Sandokan. Apparently, he was the first actor the team met [while looking for the right fit in Mumbai] and invited him to Rome to audition, at his own cost. The rest is history!

Playing the role of a flamboyant and colourful, romantic South East Asian Pirate during British Colonial times, the Italian – German - French TV series broke all viewership records across Europe and catapulted Kabir Bedi as the new Super Star in Europe! From 1977 till today, he remains a hugely loved and popular Star in Europe – especially Italy – which he considers his second home and returns to frequently for assignments.

Sandokan gave Bedi an entry into the Western shores and stepping on the gas, he cried Hollywood Ho Jaye! His experiments there, however, proved a rude reality check. Lionised and adored in Europe, Bedi went there with all cylinders firing only to find that no one knew him, had heard of him or were interested in him! “Hollywood is perhaps the most insular place on earth! They are totally self-absorbed, self-centred and interested only about their surroundings. It didn’t do my ego much good when I had to audition with fresh faces arriving with backpacks from Iowa! Beyond talent and intelligence, adaptability & patience helped. The challenge was greater since they don’t write roles for South Asian Actors.”

However, not one to give up, Bedi soldered on and soon got lucky in both the TV & movie scenes. The Bold and the Beautiful, Dynasty, Highlander, Magnum PI Ops Centre, Red Eagle, amongst others, graced the TV space. Movies included Octopussy, The Beast of War, Taj Mahal ... He has won numerous awards across Europe. He has been a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences as well as a voting member of Screen Actors. The biggest, however, his being officially knighted the highest-ranking civilian honour of the Italian Republic and bestowed the title of ‘Cavalier’ of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic by no less than the President of the Italian Republic in June 2010.

A Film, theatre and radio personality who continues to remain passionate and active in every area that he visits – including his latest marriage (No. 4) to a woman a few years younger than his daughter! – Kabir Bedi truly lives up to the slogan that he dazzled once for a cigarette ad, far away and long ago – Live Life King Size!

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