Actor Kabir Bedi remembers director Rakesh Roshan calling him up in Los Angeles in 1990. “He asked me, ‘Kabir, I am making a movie called Khoon Bhari Maang. Will you act in it?’ And I said, ‘Are heroes in Bollywood on strike? Why are you calling me in Hollywood?’” he laughs as he sips his tea at his Juhu apartment. “But then he said, ‘It’s a role of hero who becomes a villain. You are neither a hero nor villain. You have no image.’ Khoon Bhari Maang was a super hit, and remains a cult classic. But, Roshan may have been wrong about Bedi not having an “image”. In fact, it’s his image as the “exotic Indian” who could also look Arab or Mediterranean, that got him roles like villain Gobinda in the James Bond movie Octopussy, or pitted him opposite Hunter Tylo in the popular American soap, The Bold and the Beautiful.
Kabir Bedi as Sandokan in a still. The actor is now getting ready to release the DVD of the show in India
Though he has constantly appeared in international TV shows and movies since he started acting, it’s his role as a pirate in the Italian show Sandokan that gave Bedi, 69, his first international break. And after being knighted in Italy this year, he is now getting ready to release its DVD in India. “It was 1975 when the Italians came to Mumbai looking for an Asian hero to play this pirate, who is fighting the English. I had just acted in a movie called Kachche Dhaage and in Girish Karnad’s first play, Tughlaq. So, everyone suggested my name,” he says, adding, “Even though I had to spend my own money and fly to Italy for an audition, I wanted to do it. Because even then, I knew how to recognize an opportunity. That’s a skill. It could come in any way; even a conversation with someone could give arise to a great opportunity. It was just about taking it. And it took me on a trip around the world.”
Though he did take up the stray Bollywood movie, Sandokan opened the doors of the international arena to him. “I was the first one to breach that wall.” And the tide is showing no signs of abating, even as he returns to India to release the DVD and act in Ashutosh Gowariker’s Mohenjo Daro. “I have been working non-stop for the last two years. I did Dilwale and Mohenjo Daro. I did a Tamil movie called Anarkali, and an English one, Bazodee, which stars Trinidad’s big dance star Machel Montano,” he smiles.
Right now, he is content with all the adulation he receives in Italy and the rest of Europe. “I recently shot in Bulgaria for Dilwale, and everyone knew me,” he says. When we ask about his female fans, he grins. “It was mad at one time. They used to scream, ‘Kabir, I want your baby’. And then there were the stalkers, who followed me everywhere. But it’s never ended badly. So all’s good.”