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The crossover man

Kabir Bedi, the Indian actor whose successful career has spanned three continents – Asia, America and Europe – and is known for playing the pirate ‘Sandokan’ in the popular Italian television mini-series of the same name, is in Goa to attend the ongoing Film Bazaar.

NT BUZZ presents an exclusive interview with the international actor


Q: Your career has been a successful journey of multitasking; radio, television, stage, films, advertising, dubbing, compering and what not. Was this a conscious decision?

I began my career with Delhi Doordarshan and during my college years was freelancing for it. Then I came to Bombay with the idea of being a filmmaker and initially started working in advertising with Lintas and Ogilvy and Mather. Then I arrived in theatre, which was my hobby when Alyque Padamsee cast me in ‘Tughlaq’. It was a great success and as a result of that many film producers came to me and I became a movie actor. Then I met the Italians and they chose me for the series ‘Sandokan’. That’s how I became an international actor. I, with my interest in theatre continued with it. A lot of my work in Europe was on television. When in India I also compered film festivals including the opening and closing ceremonies of the International Film festival of India. I also did commentaries due to the advantage of my voice. All these things happened naturally.

Q: As a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, you are the right person to tell us why Indian films have failed to win the Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category, till date.

This membership is very special thing. You have to be nominated by two members for it and approved by the Governing Board of the Academy. The problem as regards Indian films not winning an Oscar in this particular category is that we generally send wrong films. Like in a beauty contest, the girl who wins is not the girl you think should win, but the one who judges think should. At the Academy 60 per cent of judges are white and equal numbers are over 60 years. Their sensibilities are largely western and largely American. So the films in this category need to have very human stories. Till now very few good films have made it to the nomination level but couldn’t win. This year’s Indian entry, ‘Gully Boy’, I think is the right entry. It has a chance of winning an Oscar as it is a deeply human story.

Q: You are a brand ambassador of Sightsavers. Is there a specific reason for promoting optical health?

It is very important to understand that 80 per cent of blindness can be prevented. A lot of people with sight inabilities can be cured through surgical interventions, prescription lenses, etc. Sightsavers in India has done fantastic work with over five million free eye operations done, in 108 districts of India. Recently a programme to assess the eyesight of truck drivers in the country was taken up by it around the Golden Quadrilateral of India, and we discovered that 42 per cent of them have sight problems. Can you imagine the dangers on the road? We distributed over 72,000 free eyeglasses after checking their eyesight and they were amazed to find their newly gained vision. So I am a very strong advocate of optical health and urge people to donate whatever they can to Sightsavers. 

Q: Barring Hindi movies, you are yet to act in an Indian language film. Did you consider it at any point of your career?

I did work in such films. Most recently I did two Telugu films. One was ‘Gautamiputra Satakarni’ about the Satavahana dynasty of a South Indian king of Andhra, in which I worked with Balakrishna, the son of N T Rama Rao. The other one was ‘Paisa Vasool’. And then I did a Malayalam film with Prithviraj called ‘Anarkali’. All of them were very successful and the experience of acting in them was wonderful. I look forward to doing more films in South Indian languages.    

Q: You have worked with new age directors like Ashutosh Gowariker, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Prakash Jha, and so on. In general, how do you see contemporary directors as compared to yesteryears’ filmmakers like Raj Khosla, Vijay Anand, or Feroz Khan, who have directed you?

All these directors were basically good filmmakers or else, they wouldn’t have a name. They had their own styles. In fact, now there is another generation of young film directors, who are doing even more progressive work and pushing the boundaries and language of cinema. A lot of creative work is being done by them. Every age changes with technology. At the time when Raj Khosla, Feroz Khan and Vijay Anand worked, the technology was at a certain stage, but today it has advanced and we can take huge advantage from it. Of course, technology does not provide you with talent, but enables talent in ways to enhance itself.   

Q: What is your opinion about online streaming media, which has entered the entertainment field in a big way, with web series and web films?

I see such projects as fantastic work. Most of cinema and television will now move to the Over The Top. It won’t kill the theatre experience as going to cinema would now become more of an event-based thing. Today, in the Palladium in Mumbai, the PVR has a cinema…

called ICON, where you can use an iPad besides your seat and order whatever cuisine you want to enjoy while watching the movie. You can even use the sleeper lounge to lie down and watch cinema. However, I think the real revolution is going to be in the exhibition space, in terms of most content moving to the streaming platform.  

Q: You have dubbed in Hindi for live action films like ‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’, ‘Fantastic Four’ and so on. Do you find such dubbing roles challenging?

It is challenging to dub another actor from another language through my language as I have to catch his emotions, the nuance of his voice, and portray it through my voice; hopefully even improve on it. I feel very gifted to do it. I have also dubbed for me in my own series ‘Sandokan’, from Italian to Hindi, and its DVDs are on sale.   

Q: You are the earliest Hindi commercial film lead actor, besides Shashi Kapoor to make a successful crossover; today every other actor seems to be a crossover actor finding a place in international projects. Do you think that today the presence of Indian actors in international projects has become a fashion rather than requirement for the character?

Foreign filmmakers have discovered the value of the Indian market, which has a billion people. Therefore, they are keen to cast Indian actors, as they will get a lot of eyeballs in this territory. This is fantastic development. This is what we hoped for, and even fought for. When I was trying to forge new paths internationally, at least in America people weren’t writing roles for people like me. Now they do. I am very happy about it.

Q: Is ‘Sandokan’ very close to your heart?

It has to be very close to my heart. It took me out of India, it made me a star in Europe, it changed my life. It even took me to Hollywood, where I worked in the television series, ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’, the Bond film, ‘Octopussy’… I was even knighted by the Italian government as I always tried to promote Italy in India and vice versa. ‘Sandokan’ is the root of all these achievements.

Q: Finally, are there any interesting projects in the pipeline?

I’m doing an Italian film early next year called ‘Pendolo Pendulum’, with an award winning director. Then there are talks in progress for two OTT series, and it would be a big commitment. I am also producing a fantastic comedy, and I look forward to make people laugh till they cry. 

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