Kabir Bedi: No holds barred!
A few weeks after the release of Kabir Bedi’s autobiography, Stories I Must Tell, the actor is on a high. The book is painfully honest, whether about his open relationship with his wife or being a patient companion to Parveen Babi. He doesn’t mince his words, neither in the book, nor in this interview with HT Brunch.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the response because people have been touched by my book,” he says. “I use ‘touched’ in a very special way because it was an emotional experience to live through those moments again while writing the book. So it’s very gratifying to hear that people could live that part of my life with me.”
Both reviewers and social media users have praised Kabir’s writing. “[The book is] candid and packed with great memories and devastating portraits of Protima and Parveen Babi. The Italy sections – where he was a big star after Sandokan – are the most fun. I haven’t met him in years but he writes like he talks,” wrote columnist Vir Sanghvi. Author Tavleen Singh wrote: “Unputdownable. A brutally honest autobiography and evocative of a time when India as a modern nation was young. As were [the] people of Kabir Bedi’s generation and mine.”
Kabir has been many things to many people: an actor with a career in three continents, an eloquent copywriter, an ex-husband to three women and father to two sons and a daughter. But the one thing very few people know about him was his career as a journalist. He did a brief stint at the All India Radio in 1966, during which he interviewed one of the world’s most popular bands, The Beatles. Although it was a breakthrough interview, he quit journalism and Delhi to land in Mumbai, which led to his international career, he writes in his memoir.
“It’s not just me writing about the events but the emotions I went through while writing about the events that I wanted my reader to experience with me,” he says.
Everything, from growing up in Delhi with Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi, to reaching Mumbai in his early 20s and meeting his first wife, Protima, is penned beautifully. Kabir’s attention to the minutest details keeps the reader enthralled.
“The cover photo was taken by Terry O’Neill and it took me a lot to persuade him to photograph me,” says Kabir. “After he took this picture, he told me it was a special one. So when it was time to choose a photo for the cover of the book, my wife Parveen suggested that I use this picture.”
The memoir, Kabir says, had been churning within him for a long, long time. It took time to work out the structure and the stories he wanted to put in.
“I set about writing it with real passion. It flowed like a river,” he says. Like the man himself, the story is culturally omnivorous, detailed and thoroughly optimistic.
As eloquent as he is in his book, we asked Kabir to share his raw feelings behind a few of his treasured moments.
On interviewing one of the world’s popular bands ever
“I was young, determined and crazy about The Beatles. Since I was an avid fan of the band, I knew they were in trouble after what happened in Manila and Delhi was a quick unscheduled stop on their way back to London. I also knew that Brian Epstein, the manager of the group then, was highly agitated and I used his vulnerability. My heart was pounding loudly in my head and it was like I had met my Gods. It was absolutely surreal trying to keep myself calm as I spoke to them,” Kabir recounts.
On his relationships and the era of change
“Protima and I did not start out with an open relationship. With infidelities on both sides, it came to a point where we either ended the relationship or we tried to make it work. Those were the ’60s and ’70s; social change was in the air, as was also freedom. We wanted to be part of that change. But in the end, it didn’t work, which is what led to my relationship with Parveen Babi.”
“It’s almost the duty of each generation to shock the previous one. I didn’t mind shocking people and we were not looking for the approval of conventional people. At one level, you have to be different to make the difference.”
On being one of the first crossover Indian stars
“Sandokan was totally transformative. Going from Bollywood and becoming the biggest star in Italy and Europe overnight was a completely breathtaking experience. That’s how I landed the James Bond film (Octopussy 1983) and later, The Bold and Beautiful.
“During the shooting of the film, I was extremely disciplined; it was like a state of meditation in action. It was a huge learning experience in Europe as well as in America. In Europe, I started at the top and in America, I started at the bottom. Part of the problem was I fancied myself as a serious actor, but the truth was if I had wanted a career in Bollywood, I should have made myself fully conversant in song and dance numbers as well.”
On five controversial moments of his life
“Was my decision to leave Delhi, the city I grew up in, controversial? Was my decision to give up my fairly secure job in advertising to do films controversial? Was my open marriage with Protima or relationship with Parveen Babi controversial? Was my decision to leave Europe and move on to Hollywood controversial? Was the way I mishandled my money in America controversial? So many things can be deemed controversial. I don’t know which should be top or bottom of the list.”
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From HT Brunch, June 13, 2021
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