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Kabir Bedi, the actor who was Sandokan: "I'm glad diversity has grown in cinema"


Highlights: The actor of Indian origin publishes his autobiography 'Stories I must tell', from his beginnings as a young journalist (interviewing the Beatles) to his adventures in Hollywood. The actor continues to impress with his aristocratic bearing of almost 1.90 in height, his feline face, the look of a tiger and that voice with some tones so low that they are probably inaudible to the human ear. "There's still the spirit of adventure, the desire to push boundaries and see how else I can express myself," he explains.

The actor of Indian origin publishes his autobiography 'Stories I must tell', from his beginnings as a young journalist (interviewing the Beatles) to his adventures in Hollywood

In November 1976 "hundreds of young girls prey to the most unbridled hysteria destroyed everything they found in their path in an attempt to approach the television idol" who visited a department store in Madrid. They chanted "we want a son of yours," according to the chronicle of this newspaper, then newborn.

That idol was the Indian actor Kabir Bedi, famous for playing the Malay pirate Sandokan in the Italian series of the same title, based on the novels of Emilio Salgari. Bedi fled in panic and took refuge in a nearby police station, where he was reunited with his family. On the set of the series Bedi had been poisoned by smoke, he had twisted his ankles when jumping from galloping horses, he had ended up surrendered on the ground in exhaustion, but that mob was perhaps just as threatening. The next day he signed Christmas greetings from Unicef with the Infanta Margarita de Borbón.

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Already in the XXI century, Bedi, born 77 years ago in the city of Lahore (today in Pakistan, although then still in India), returns once again to Madrid, without fear of the mobs of fans, and continues to raise great stir around him. Upon his arrival last Tuesday at the booth of the Antonio Machado bookstore, at the Book Fair held in the Retiro Park, a large group of already talluditos followers chases him asking for selfies while we try to make him, with notable difficulties, a portrait with the green background, which looks like the jungle of Southeast Asia. Will there be any of the fans of '76 here?

The actor continues to impress with his aristocratic bearing of almost 1.90 in height, his feline face, the look of a tiger and that voice with some tones so low that they are probably inaudible to the human ear. "So far here I've been known as Sandokan," he says, "now I've written a book for you to get to know the person behind it." The gesture of a fearsome pirate has been removed, now he has it as a good person.

Kabir Bedi at a moment of his signing at the booth of the Antonio Machado bookstore, on June 6, 2023. Alvaro Garcia

That book is entitled Stories I must tell (Amok editions) and narrates from his beginnings as a young journalist who manages to interview the Beatles in Bombay to his acting journey that takes him from Bollywood to Hollywood, passing through European fame, especially in Spain and Italy (where he has been named cavaliere, knight, and, more importantly, he has participated in a reality show similar to Celebrity Island.) In the text he has no shame in telling his sentimental life, nor inconvenience in recounting in detail the socio-political reality of each period of his life.

What remains of that young countercultural journalist in today's Bedi? "There's still the spirit of adventure, the desire to push boundaries and see how else I can express myself," he explains. He is proud to have taken constant risks and not stayed in what a modern-day charlatan would call his comfort zone. He gave up a comfortable job in advertising to become an actor, then left the Indian industry to explore the West, and when he was more successful in Europe he went to the United States, where his career did not finish curdling, although he acted in the film Octopussy, of the James Bond saga, or in other series such as A crime has been written, Dynasty or The Fantastic Car.

"There weren't many roles for me in Hollywood, and when you had to play an Indian, a white man painted his skin brown," he says. At the time, the industry wasn't as concerned about diversity and the dangers of whitewashing. As he observed, the foreigners who triumphed in the American industry already came triumphant from abroad: Sonia Braga, Penélope Cruz or Antonio Banderas. He didn't find his way. But today diversity has grown in the film industry. "I'm glad that it was like that, and that I raised my voice at that time asking for more diverse casts," he says. "I like to think we've made it easier for all the Asian actors that are now in American movies."

The success of Sandokan

In other areas such as Asia or Europe, Bedi did reap success, but he describes it as something not so glamorous, something that does not quite satisfy anyone (as, moreover, seems obvious when studying the lives of the great stars). "Those who don't succeed fear they will never succeed. Those who have it fear losing their fame. I've seen huge triumphs and great tragedies – it's part of this business," he explains. "I think it's important to learn how to deal with success, because, in the end, success is simply learning to overcome adversity," he adds.

His financial life was not easy: he fell into bankruptcy, especially when he began to make ruinous investments in companies such as Netscape, a technology that then promised, pioneer of browsers, but that was defeated by Microsoft. "And I assure you that being bankrupt is always difficult, but more so when you're a celebrity: you have a reputation to maintain," he says.

A still from the series 'Sandokan', with Kabir Bedi in the role of the Malaysian pirate fighting against British colonialism. Peter Bischoff (Getty Images)

In Europe, Sandokan was, without a doubt, his best-known role. "There are actors who are known for a single character: it's hard to think of another Clark Gable movie beyond Gone with the Wind or any other role for Sean Connery other than James Bond. In my case it's Sandokan," he says. What is the reason for the success of that character? "It was an epic story, the story of a man fighting against social injustice and political oppression [fighting against British colonialism]. In addition, it was a very exotic world of lush jungles and turquoise seas that took people away from the problems that existed then, just as there are now. We had the economic crisis, the concern about overpopulation or the terrorism of groups like the Red Brigades in Italy," he explains. "People were also worried about the future then." Sandokan was one of the first series in color, and the soundtrack helped a lot: the main theme, by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, truffled with exciting choruses, was played even in discotheques.

In its beginnings it had been a figure of Bollywood cinema, the largest film industry in the world, which only for a few years is known, and not much, in these parts. Bedi regrets that for decades he was not given the recognition he deserved, perhaps because in the middle of the plot the characters start singing and dancing, and here that is not understood. "But that's a peculiarity of the genre, like those of European opera or Japanese kabuki theater," he explains. "In Bollywood movies that brings you to a state of mind of fantasy that is beginning to be understood in the West."

Counterculture and anti-colonial struggle

The actor has at this age the appearance and mettle of a spiritual guru: spirituality has accompanied him since he was young, guided by figures (sometimes controversial) such as Osho or Krishnamurti. His father came from the Sikh religion; his mother, British, was a Buddhist nun (a family committed to the anti-colonial struggle, like Sandokan), and he himself was for three months. He always tried to know the answer to the big questions: where did we come from?, why did the Big Bang happen?, what happened before?, how can something come from nothing? "But the responses of religions are varied and contradictory. I think, at least, spirituality in everyday life is about being kind to others, being tolerant of others, caring for others," he reflects.

In those 60s of the counterculture, Bedi was very influenced by Western youth culture. "We were the original bohemians of India, we wanted to be part of the revolution that was happening in the West," explains the actor, "we wanted to change everything, socially, sexually, culturally, in fashion, we wanted to represent that. And we did." Not everything was easy. He married his first wife, the celebrated model Protima Gupta, and they maintained an open marriage. The thing did not work: jealousy and arguments came. "But it was all part of that time of experimentation," Bedi consoles. "We grew emotionally as human beings in that decade, the legacy of the sixties remains with me."

"He's great for his age," says a fairground goerby. At the Book Fair, Bedi signs copies with patience and kindness. Repeat this Thursday, June 8 at the booth of the Lé bookstore (booth 191). A fan approaches him to sign old photos, he is unemployed and has no money for the book. Bedi, of course, gives it to him. At the Valladolid Book Fair, where he was the day before and India was the guest country, the anecdotes accumulated, according to his editors. One fan did not hesitate to jump on the table to be photographed with him. Another follower appeared with two swords to stage with Bedi some fencing steps. It's what it takes to be the tiger of Malaysia.

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Source: elparis

All life articles on 2023-06-08

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