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The name's Christo. Bob Christo

Updated on: 22 May,2011 11:47 AM IST  | 
Fiona Fernandez |

From Zeenat Aman to Amrita Singh, the presence of Bob Christo in the same frame transformed most heroines from the '70s and '80s into hapless damsels. Sunday Mid Day gets exclusive access to one of Bollywood's biggest baddies' life, revealed in the late actor's thrill-a-page biography

The name's Christo. Bob Christo

From Zeenat Aman to Amrita Singh, the presence of Bob Christo in the same frame transformed most heroines from the '70s and '80s into hapless damsels. Sunday Mid Day gets exclusive access to one of Bollywood's biggest baddies' life, revealed in the late actor's thrill-a-page biography

While in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) on a military mission, the late Bob Christo chanced upon an edition of the Time magazine dated March 1, 1977. The cover story read 'The Indian Film Industry and Parveen Babi.' It piqued Christo's imagination, who wanted to meet the actress and try his luck in an industry which according to the story, '...Released over a thousand films every year, that is about three films every day.' The life of Christo, Australian by birth, and civil engineer by profession, would put the script of any of Manmohan Desai's masala potboilers to shame, in terms of the canvas and cast. In 2008, Christo, who as a kid enjoyed playing storyteller to his cousins, decided to write his biography without the help of a ghostwriter. Pity that he passed away in March 2011, months before his biography's first copies hit stands.

Australian by birth, and civil engineer by profession, Bob Christo's life
would put the script
of any of Manmohan Desai's masala potboilers to
shame pic/Suresh KK

While Christo's role play in Bollywood, since his debut in Sanjay Khan's Abdullah, to his second innings in mega TV serials including The Great Maratha, is well documented, few are aware of the Australian's exploits prior his landing in Mumbai.

Flashback: My Life and Times in Bollywood and Beyond, written by Christo, and edited by Allen Lane and Portfolio publisher Udayan Mitra reveals his story, sans kid-glove treatment. From training under Bruce Lee's tutor Oshiro to being a model in South Africa, Christo managed to get a lot done in one lifetime. Fittingly, his autobiography reads like an edgy, unpredictable film script -- his stint as a Hollywood film stuntman, a military assignment in Rhodesia, starting an escort service in South Africa, and of course, wooing the big names in Bollywood, including Zeenat Aman ('Zee' to Bob). We bring you excerpts from our interview with the editor, and exclusive extracts from the soon-to-be-released book.
What were your initial thoughts when you began to work with Christo's biography?
I met Bob in Bangalore two years ago at a book launch. I had no idea that Bob had moved to Bangalore after he retired from Bollywood, or that he might be interested in books. After the event he came up to me and introduced himself, and made a couple of keen observations about the discussion. I was still trying to get used to the fact that I was speaking to Bob Christo -- an indelible part of our collective Bollywood memories -- when he said, 'You know, I've written a book, about my life. May I send it to you?' The manuscript arrived in a few days, along with Bob's personal scrapbook, which contained hundreds of newspaper cuttings of promotional material from his movies (some of these have been used in the book). I found the manuscript engaging and signed him up immediately.

What sort of challenges did you face along the way, particularly since you were interacting with a known face from Hindi cinema?
It was a wonderful author-publisher relationship. Bob would call me every week, and we would chat about the progress of the book -- he was very excited about every aspect, the copy editing, the page proofs, the photo insert, the cover, the blurb. Whenever I went to Bangalore we would meet at book launches --Bob was a regular at launches. He was extremely co-operative and a professional.

Tell us about the real Bob Christo -- how different was he from his on-screen persona? His life reads like that of a travelled, feisty go-getter who didn't hesitate to take new challenges.
Bob really saw life in all its multitudes, the happy as well as the sad; he was down and out as often as he was celebrating good fortune. He led life his own way, and a lot of his adventures are captured in the book. (Some, he said, he was reserving for his next book, which he wanted to write as a novel.) I think Bob's on-screen persona had a lot to do with the kind of baddie they wanted in the 1980s -- in most movies his character didn't even have a name, he was just this brawny white guy who threatened the hero and got bashed up. In real life he was very nice, a gentle soul, a lovely person to know (but, as Tom Alter says in his foreword, perfectly capable of yanking the door handle off an Ambassador in trying to open the door).

What did Christo reveal to you of his connect with India?
Bob was at home in India--I don't think he would have stayed on otherwise after he retired from cinema. Once an adventurer, he was at peace with himself in his last years. He was wistful about his Bollywood years -- he would often reminisce about them when we spoke.

How did you react to the news of Christo's demise? Had he seen the final version of the book by then?
It was a shock and I was deeply saddened. This book was a dream of his and I wish he had been there to see it published. Bob had told me several times, 'You had better hurry up and publish my book while I'm still alive!' I knew he was going to be hospitalised for what I thought was a routine health check-up, but had no idea it could be serious. He didn't look ill at all -- but obviously his body had been giving way bit by bit. He was seventy-two when he died, he didn't look his age at all. He had read and approved the final proofs of the book the week before he was hospitalised, and he was very happy with the final version. Days before his death, we had sent him the final cover design. He loved it and took it into hospital with him--there was a picture in a newspaper that showed him lying on his hospital bed, hugging the cover to his chest.
The book will be available at all leading bookstores within a week.

Excerpts from Flashback

Close Shave (Pg 181-182)

Yet another close shave occurred off-screen. Sanjay had a friend who owned the bungalow next to him. He also became an actor. He was quite popular. His name was Ranjeet; his friends called him Goli. One evening Sanjay, Goli and I were sitting together having drinks and snacks in Goli's place. Other members of the film industry joined; Prem Chopra, Shatrugan Sinha, Subhash Ghai and some others. Somehow an argument started; after a few drinks moods often change and tempers rise. I am not interested in fights really; as long as I'm not involved, I keep out of the way. However, Sanjay was my friend and whatever Shatru said did not go down well with Sanjay. Since it appeared like the majority of those present were supporting Shatru, I stood up and stayed near Sanjay. That was immediately looked upon as a threat by the others. One person went into the kitchen and came out with a knife in his hands. I disarmed him and told them to control themselves. Several minutes later Sanjay and I left.

That very night I received a call from Sanjay at about 5 am. Sanjay said 'Come over and bring Betsy,' which was our code word for 'gun'. I went right away and Sanjay explained that shots had been fired from Goli's property across to his bungalow and someone had also fired at least two shots from outside Sanjay's front gate. The watchman had been slapped by somebody, but he hadn't seen who it was, since it was still dark. We picked up the spent cartridges of the bullets and handed them over to police after they arrived. After that we had some breakfast and later we visited Dilip Kumar to ask for his advice. Then I went to my place to take a shower and brush my teeth. Nargis had left a letter for me on the table....

It took a few days to sort everything out. Subhash Ghai had to spend one day in the lock-up until he was bailed out. The seniors of the Bombay film industry and Sanjay had a final meeting and that was the end of it. But from that time on Shatrugan Sinha was called Shotgun Sinha, although it also had something to do with his fast dialogue delivery.

Glamourous Liaisons (Pg 184-185)
After lunch everybody went for a snooze. Sanjay requested me to give him a fifteen-minute massage until he dozed off. Then I also slept for half an hour. Towards evening Russi Modi and I went for a jog along the beach. It was very refreshing even though I was sweating a lot, but that I didn't mind; actually sweating makes me feel good. Towards evening we sat again outside with Nusli and Zeenat until Nusli went to his room. I noticed that Zee paid extra attention to Nusli. She told him that she'd be shooting in London after two days. Nusli responded that he was also supposed to travel to London, maybe a day later. 'Oh, that's great, let's meet,' squeaked Zeenat. Sanjay didn't like that at all.

I left Zee and Sanjay alone and went to the bar to have a drink. When I went looking for Sanjay two hours later I found him in the room we were sharing, still talking to Zeenat. I asked where I should sleep. Sanjay told Zee to give me her key so I could sleep in her room because they'd have to discuss a few more things. So I slept in Zeenat's room. She came in at about seven in the morning and she climbed straight away into her bed, put her arms around me and said, 'Good morning.' I also wished her, but I got up and made to go and get ready. But she requested me to give her a wake-up massage. I agreed and asked her if she managed to get any sleep. Her estimate was about two hours, that's all. 'Well, I'll give you a leg and back massage plus shoulders and arms. After that you'll have to brush your teeth and your tongue and then drink a nice cup of coffee; that should do the trick. If it doesn't, call me and I'll give you another massage.' Excerpted with permission from Penguin Books India from Flashback: My Life and Times in Bollywood and Beyond, Bob Christo (foreword by Tom Alter), Penguin, Rs 399

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