|Three and a half decades after he made his spectacular debut in Showbiz – India’s very first poster boy model and red-hot stage luminary after Alyque Padamsee’s Tughlaq, Kabir Bedi, still retains his killer looks and amazingly sexy baritone. In the city on a personal visit,the guy who is still lionized in Europe and recognized in Hollywood, but largely ignored in Bollywood, spoke to Little India with rare wit, charm and candor about his life.
BOLLYWOOD & I JUST DON’T GELL!
First things first. I had never in my life ever aspired to be an actor. Direction was the area that interested me. When O.P. Ralhan, a big-shot filmmaker of the early seventies, signed me on, I was more bewildered than thrilled. Anyway, I decided to go with the flow. The film, Hulchul, turned out to be a disaster, as did most of the other films I worked in, with the exception of Raj Khosla’s Kuchhe Dhaage, which proved to be a big hit. I have often been asked why, despite having some kind of a presence and a decent voice, I couldn’t make it in an environment where others (much inferior in every way) were hitting target. Frankly, that’s not for me to say.. All I can say, in hindsight, is that it had to do with many things, first of which was my general discomfort with the Hindi language as a medium of communication. Sherwood, St. Stephens and the Mumbai Adbiz were pretty much English-specific, defining a very different sensibility than the one existing in the Bollywood of the ‘70s. Also, the fact that I didn’t exactly look like the boy next door and wasn’t wild about dancing around the trees — a must in those roop tera mastana times — didn’t sweep the polls in my favor!
Looking back, I think it had largely to do with the fact that I was not really passionate enough about making the grade as a top-class Bollywood hero or else I certainly would have exercised damage control. My agenda was focused on being a director and I counted my acting stints as a huge learning experience towards reaching that objective. Of course Sandokan came and slung it out !
HOLLYWOOD IS TOTALLY INCESTUOUS
The Italian production of Sandokan (which I signed on while struggling in Bollywood) was a monster hit, which flamboyantly showcased my strengths — drama, action, romance — in style. Overnight I became a demi-god in Europe, triggering the kind of hysteria globally revered pop stars receive. France, Germany, Spain, Italy — the film just exploded! I decided that Hollywood was the next stop and moved. Ashanti (co-starring Michael Caine and Peter Ustinov) and Octopussy (co-starring Roger Moore and a dozen dazzling babes) marked a good beginning, but with hardly any worthwhile encores.
The reasons were simple. Hollywood is a totally incestuous and self-centered place, not remotely interested in anything beyond L.A. You can be the hottest ticket in Europe, Asia or wherever, but if you haven’t scored there, you are zero! It’s not about what you have done or can do, but who you are. Do you know that the Asian presence in America’s showbiz — Theatre, Television & Film — is less than one percent? They just don’t give a damn! After the dizzy heights reached with Sandokan, frankly, this was a huge humbling experience, but I got real, took it in my stride, made my peace with it and cottoned on to another segment, which was equally mind-blowing — Soaps.
DO YOU KNOW BOLD & BEAUTIFUL IS THE SECOND MOST-WATCHED SOAP IN THE WORLD ?
You have to be in the U.S. to understand the kind of impact soaps make on people. They attract an unbelievable groundswell and are a sub-culture all their own, with their very own star-system, magazines, fan-clubs, awards and insane following!
Did you know that Bold & Beautiful is the second most-watched soap in the world, pipped at the post only by the Pam Anderson-powered Baywatch? I really had no idea about all this when I first got on board. Subsequently I did General Hospital, One Life to Live and of course Bold & Beautiful.
It’s all regimented. When you walk in at 8 a.m., you are given an hour and a half of basic blocking. Once you are through with that, you get into wardrobe, make-up and all of that with one proper rehearsal. There is a small break for lunch, after which its action all the way. You better have a super memory in terms of movement and lines, because if you blow your lines and there’s re-shooting, it costs the company that many thousand dollars. Too many re-takes means you are written-off from the script, cast and production.
I must have done something right, because I was contracted for three months and ended up staying one year, but the pressure of having to deliver, time after time, can be very taxing. This relentless schedule has taught the regulars to develop a near-photographic memory and yet appear cool, casual and comfortable in the scenes they appear, no easy task, I can assure you. I have huge respect for the soap artists on account of the labor they put in and the craft they display day after day, week after week. On a personal level, most actors immediately get into their “personal” mode when the shooting ends and like to keep their distance from their colleagues.
I was both flattered and honored when not only the cast but also the producer of Bold & Beautiful invited me to their homes for parties and private functions. Somewhere I had managed to strike a personal equation with them. Oh, contrary to some rumors doing the rounds in India, I did not have an affair, or fling with Hunter Tylo. We were colleagues who got on rather well. Sad but true !
LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING.
Love is an extraordinary state to be in, no question about it. With age, however, a certain perspective enters which may be a good or bad thing, because cynicism (like it or not) comes in. At a personal level and as a battle-scarred veteran in the business (three marriages and umpteen fabulous relationships) its fascinating to have seen love used as a tool of manipulation in the man-woman connect. The Proclamation of “I love you” can be lethally turned around by your mate to, “If you really loved me, you would …!”
I wish there was a way by which people in love could still retain their objectivity and focus. People often get married too quickly, for the wrong reasons and to the wrong person, leading to a lot of heartburn as they hobble along. I think caution should be exercised because two of the most crucial decisions in one’s life comprise: who one is marrying and what will be his chosen profession. There are no easy answers or solutions and one has to learn and re-learn as one moves along.
One of the fascinating discoveries I’ve made is that loving together and living together is not necessarily the same thing. Living together is life beyond dating, in hard close-up, warts and all. Do I have any regrets? Sure, I do. Looking back, I would have liked to have not done a lot of things or done them differently. But then only hindsight teaches you that, because at that point in time you truly believed that’s the right decision you were making. It’s also amazing the course each relationship runs, each one truly unique and yet, somewhere making the same mistakes.
For me, at the end of the day, if there has been more joy than pain or grief, the relationship has been worthwhile. C’mon, nobody is perfect! Take my first wife Protima and me. We were very young, madly in love and together. My work took me away a lot. She had her own ambitions and free-spirited as she was, her own individuality too. Problems arose in the marriage and we attempted to resolve them in a mature and open-minded manner. We even tried an “open” relationship, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t work.
Marriage number two happened in America. I was young, eligible, successful, had lots of money, hitting the high spots and veering pretty much out of control. A part of me advised me to cool it, or else. Susan (my ex-wife) was an extremely warm, loving and rooted kind of person who symbolized security, hearth and home. She was perfect for me at that point, but I soon realized that it wouldn’t work because we were incompatible in most ways and therefore the relationship was unsustainable. I decided after this not to marry. I came to India, did Othello, met Niki, who played Desdemona, and in the process of strangling her each night, married her! I think in her, I found someone whom I could communicate with, share things with, laugh and generally connect at a mental and intellectual level as well. Oh, she’s a pocket-sized dynamo of individuality all right, extremely intolerant of a lot of things.
Presently, I have moved on and found a new love in the vivacious, social researcher Parveen Dusanj. Okay, she may be close to my daughter’s age, but for me, in a relationship age is just a number.