A bad memory, it is believed, is one of the keys to happiness. Nietzsche thought that the advantage of a bad memory was that one enjoyed several times the same good things for the first time. Reading Kabir Bedi's autobiography, Stories I Must Tell, you realise despite being blessed with an excellent memory, the actor seemed to start things all over again with the same passion. Bedi's razor-sharp memory makes you wonder if he had religiously scribbled notes all through the course of his life in the hope that one day it would make for an exciting story.
Bedi recalls nearly every stimulating conversation that he had ever had with a slew of people ranging from His Holiness The Dalai Lama XIV to Gina Lollobrigida. Honest, scathing, at times, indulgent, primarily factual, somewhat mythical and laden with one fascinating anecdote after another, Stories I Must Tell: The Emotional Life of an Actor is everything that you expect from a good biography and beyond.
To say that Kabir Bedi led a fascinating life would be an understatement. Everything known or heard about Bedi is enough to warrant a book. An underappreciated Hindi film actor of the 1970s, Bedi transformed into a cultural icon in Italy and Europe. Reading him relive his journey in his words makes it all the more fun. Bedi met and interviewed the Beatles as a 20-year-old freelance reporter with the All India Radio in Delhi and moved to Bombay as a mark of protest after the national broadcaster recorded over the conversation.
At the heart of India's up-and-coming advertising scene in Bombay in the late 1960s, he started modelling and acting in theatre. His move to films with OP Ralhan's Hulchul did not precisely set the stage on fire. What makes Bedi one of the most intriguing icons of the 1970s Bombay is how he was a fulcrum of the era thanks to his lifestyle and general approach to things.
One of the founding members of the "Juhu Gang", famous for their raucous parties, Bedi, and his wife, Protima, both had an 'open' marriage, were seen as nothing less than a trendsetter. His move to Europe after being cast in Sandokan catapulted him into an altogether different league.
If, on the one hand, Bedi was hobnobbing with some of the biggest names in European cinema right from Federico Fellini to Sergio Leone, on the other hand, he was also constantly picking up pieces of a shattered relationship. His split with Protima over Parveen Babi and later heartbreak with Parveen is described in vivid detail, and Bedi is highly critical of himself when it comes to pinning blame. Bedi had multiple relationships, broken marriages, loss of work, failure in films, but the biggest heartbreak was his son, Siddharth's, suicide.
What also strikes you about Bedi is his belief in spirituality. As someone whose parents practically renounced the material world for a higher calling, it might not have too difficult for someone like Kabir Bedi not to be so open. Although his life does give a sense of being uprooted, and dare one say, a lack of connection or belonging, Bedi's approach towards spiritualism makes for good reading.
At times, Stories I Must Tell: The Emotional Life of an Actor comes across as an exercise in name dropping, one of the pitfalls of some autobiographies. One can't blame Bedi or his family for knowing almost everyone who was someone between the 1930s and 1960s – Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Teji Bachchan, Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi, Shekhar Kapur, and the list goes on… but the book, or at least portions, could have edited better. Bedi's writing is not chronological in the classic sense, and as a result, some people who make multiple appearances are given a brief introduction every time they appear.Parveen Babi, toasting with Italian director and scriptwriter Sergio Sollima and Austrian actress Sonja Jeannine on the set of The Black Corsair. 1976
For some, Kabir Bedi is Sandokan. For others, he is the menacing baddie from Khoon Bhari Maang, and in-between lies the bohemian whose real life was beyond anything that the wildest of the stories could conjure. His off-screen and on-screen image created an aura cast in concrete, and few bothered to look beyond the headline. With Stories I Must Tell: The Emotional Life of an Actor, Kabir Bedi tries to deconstruct the fable and succeeds greatly.
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