Kabir Bedi's 'Stories I Must Tell': A gripping tale with strong undercurrents of 'emotional life of an actor'

Spiced with solid masala, the actor's autobiography 'Stories I Must Tell' is a super read for anyone interested in content that re-affirms the old saying: Truth is stranger than fiction!

Kabir Bedi's 'Stories I Must Tell': A gripping tale with strong undercurrents of 'emotional life of an actor'

Monojit Lahiri

Stories We Must Hear-- could well be the response to the seductive title of this vastly engaging and entertaining book, 'Stories I Must Tell' portraying the event-filled journey of a middle-class, Delhi-based guy of Sikh-Brit heritage who, at every step, re-defined the term, voyage of discovery! Actually his roller-coaster ride through life is the stuff of a Bollywood smash hit or a No.1 OTT product! Spiced with solid masala – more accident than design – SIMT is a super read for anyone interested in content that re-affirms the old saying: Truth is stranger than fiction!

Before I get into the book, do allow me to expand on Niven’s classic line of the butler and chief guest by narrating the three memorable meetings I’ve had, over the decades, with Kabir Bedi.

The first was in 1972 at a party at Juhu. I didn’t know him but moseyed across, introduced myself as a free-lancer [professionally engaged in advertising but passionate about films] and sought an interview. He was warm, friendly and instantly agreed. “Tomorrow morning, 6.30 at the beach behind this complex. We can have a leisurely chat and when I go in for my 10 minutes dip in the sea, feel free to ponder over some enduring mysteries of life” he breezily offered. We did have a long and lovely chat the following morning but Bedi with his teenie weenie trunks, chiselled body and Adonis looks, did distract most joggers and walkers, mostly of the other sex, with varied degrees of discomfort from their male companions!

The second meeting was in the mid-seventies post-Sandokan - the Italian film which took Europe by storm – and in Kolkata, where he dropped by for a special screening of his Basu Bhattacharya-directed 'Daku'. We met at the Press Conference in the Oberoi Grand but he was sweet enough to remember me and our Juhu session and invited me for an exclusive the next day at his Tea Company brother’s large flat in Alipore. This session was mostly about 'Sandokan', his other-worldly connect with an ecstatic and out-of-control fan base in Europe. Parveen Babi was his present girl and the caring way he handled her growing impatience relating to the duration of our interview (his indulgent, loud smooch was there in my Dictaphone for a long time!) was amazing.

The last time was at Delhi’s Maurya Sheraton, sometime in the nineties, when he came by to play MC for the opening session of one of the International Film Festivals. This session will be remembered by audiences of that time as the one where Actress-activist Shabana Azmi tried to hijack the opening by forcibly reading a protest letter. Our adda that followed later was mostly about Bollywood, Bold & Beautiful, Hollywood, his life between wives and the hope that Victor Banerjee with his celebrated Passage to India, would play his cards right and make a solid mark in racist Hollywood! As always, he was focused, intelligent, well-informed, articulate, charming, self-deprecating and brutally honest in calling a spade a shovel!

Cut to the book.

From Page one, Chapter one, Bedi turns on the heat. To readers who have lived through, experienced or connected with a phenomenon called Beatlemania, in the sixties, he takes us headlong into a thrilling, suspense-driven, collective fan-boy moment with his experience as a rookie-reporter daringly gate-crashing a Fort Knox-type security to enter the Fab Four’s suite! The global rockstars happened to have dropped by - Delhi, Oberoi Hotel – for a couple of days enroute to London and Bedi having got wind of it wasn’t going to let us pass! He was both desperate and determined to swing a sensational coup through an interview (pre-TV days) for All India Radio. How he managed, through the gift of the gab, charm, presence of mind and street-smart antics sets the tone and tenor of this vastly absorbing tell-all book.

Actually, this amazing event is the appropriate curtain raiser to a passion play that offers a canvas showcasing events, anecdotes, moments and episodes reminiscent of the life and times of such colourful Hollywood icons as Rudy Valentino, Eroll Flynn and John Barrymore!

It was disillusionment, anger, shock and heartbreak at All India Radio’s callous attitude towards his blood, sweat and tears induced interview that became the main reason for his leaving Delhi for Bombay. AIR not only aired this path-breaking Beatles interview at a weird and ungodly hour, but also shockingly deleted it forever by taping another interview over it!

Feeling totally cheated, and convinced that his ambition to work in the broadcast communication would come to nought in this city, with Rs 70 in his pocket and a heartful of dreams, the young man boarded a train that was headed to the city that never sleeps and whose streets were believed to be paved with golden opportunities.

His Bombay section is fascinating. Never one to shy away from problems and ever-ready to convert challenges to opportunities, serendipity suddenly seemed to be Bedi’s best buddy! From here the book traces his journey--his entry into Ad Agency, Benson (today’s Ogilvy) his dramatic, first encounter with the dusky, footloose and fancy-free bindaas Protima, their unconventional scandalous bonding, live-in, his move to Lintas, his sensational debut in & as Alyque Padamsee’s 'Tughlaq', flashing his deadly, chiselled, seemingly naked body on stage to create a storm, his debut in Bollywood – a completely unknown territory with its own ground realities and dynamics – where he proved to be a dismal failure, his shaky marriage and finally a life-transforming role (as a colourful, flamboyant pirate, Sandokan) from Italy that overnight made him the toast of Europe, along with a dazzling new companion ... Parveen Babi!

The next section details his ambitious desire to expand his bandwidth and hit Hollywood. It comprises of his shocking reality-check in discovering that despite appearances in Thief of Baghdad, Ashanti, The Black Pirate and Octopussy and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Roger Moore, Michael Caine, Omar Shariff, Joan Collins, Audrey Hepburn, Fellini and especially an embarrassingly brief encounter with Gina Lolobrigida, the Asian actors were forever stereotyped in Hollywood. No roles were specifically written for Asians in racist Hollywood. His roles on American Television, Murder She Wrote, Highlander, Magnum PI, Dynasty and the most popular Bold & Beautiful, got him much more recognition, even wife no.2, Susan! However, neither lasted.

His return to Mumbai, doing the odd films in Bollywood, wife no.3, Niki are very well documented but introspection, grief and confusion mark several phases beyond the glamour of the impossibly torrid whirl in the fast lane. His deep sadness at losing his young-adult son, Siddharth, his ex-wife Protima and ex-lover Persis Khambata is movingly scripted as is his recollection of rambling on the beach, far away and long ago of an idealistic 22 year old pronouncing his version of life.

The book – like most films – has a happy ending when wife no.4 Parveen Dusan enters his life providing him sanity, peace, calm, security and untold joy. Their meeting and affair that led to the marriage is yet another fascinating chapter in repertoire of stories he must tell.

Vigorous, vibrant, versatile, the problem of viewers with Kabir Bedi is not trying to see the artist behind the man. Kabir Bedi over time, seems to have been over-exposed in every area of his life but films. The fascination he still exerts over one kind of constituency seems indeed to be in inverse proportion to the knowledge they have of his work. For these voyeurs, his life has been one long spin into impossibly heady times, with women forever starring at the epi-centre.

While that may, in part, be true of his extraordinary life, what lies beneath is what this book is about--- the emotional life of an Actor. Apart from Kachhe Dhaage, Bullet and Khoon Bhari Mang, the actor has never really struck target in the Bollywood space and that is because the film-makers just didn’t know where to fit him in. He is not the boy-next-door; he is the lousiest sing-dance-romance Bollywood-style hero; he is totally lost in Bollywood parties because he shares neither their interests, knowledge of the latest goings-on or the art of cosying up with the right movers n’ shakers.

Like Sushmita Sen, he is un-castable. Pity, because with his personality and experience, a smart writer and film-maker can really work wonders. If that happens, we can have a fresh edition of New Stories to tell, from a colourful, adventurous and talented actor who can still rise and shine in a way that can startle Gen X!

Everything considered, 'Stories I Must Tell' is an un-missable read for all who love stories that have adventure, romance, thrills, peaks and valleys, but most of all deep passion with compassion!

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