(January 12, 2023)“Kabir keeps on playing, decade after decade, an extraordinary role in promoting better relations between India and Italy. His popularity is widespread across all generations in Italy. This is the reason why the President of the Republic of Italy has decided to present him one of Italy’s highest decorations – The Order of Merit. Kabir is very special for all of us Italians,” the Consul General of Italy, Alessandro de Mas said after reading aloud the Scroll of Honour signed by the Italian President Mattarella and counter-signed by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in an event overlooking the Gateway of India in Mumbai. The acclaimed Indian actor was awarded the Merito della Repubblica Italiana (The Order of Merit of the Italian Republic) recently.
Bedi’s journey of life has been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride, attracting widespread attention due to its myriad ups and downs. His influence hasn’t been limited to Bollywood, where he made a mark with over 60 films and Hollywood, but went far beyond. In fact, his innings in Italy has by far been the most successful one, where people are immensely in love with the talented actor.
Household name in Italy
“I was awarded the “Order of Merit of the Italian Republic” (Merito della Repubblica Italiana), the most prestigious Italian civilian award,” an elated Bedi had tweeted soon after receiving the award.
Bedi is a household name in Italy. The recent honour got conferred on him, 13 years after he was knighted as Cavaliere (Knight) of the ‘Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana’ in 2010. “It was a very emotional award for me. Being presented the Order of Merit, Italy’s highest honour, is the fulfilment of my life’s work in Italy. It’s even higher than Cavaliere (Knight), which they gave me thirteen years ago. This double honour was a goose-bumps moment for me,” the Global Indian added in his tweet.
Rendezvous with Italy
Bedi’s connection with Italy began in the late 1970s when he starred in ‘Sandokan,’ a six-part Italian television series. The show depicted the story of an Asian pirate who fell in love with the daughter of an English Lord.
Following his role in Sandokan, Bedi appeared in six successful television series in the country. In 2022, he was honoured with the Filming Italy Movie Lifetime Achievement Award at the Italian Pavilion, an initiative led by the Directorate General for Cinema and Audiovisual (DGCA) of Italy’s Ministry of Culture.
Reflecting on his career, the actor highlighted in one of the interviews that becoming a star in Bollywood meant conforming to the singing and dancing stereotypes, which had led him to seek career prospects abroad. “It was the Italians who changed the course of my career by providing me the opportunity to come to Italy, offering me the iconic role of Sandokan,” he remarked.
Journalism and advertising before acting
Kabir Bedi was not always an actor. He used to work for All India Radio (AIR) as a freelancer, and even worked at advertising agencies before becoming an actor.
Growing up he had seen his parents really passionate about India’s freedom and helping refugees, but they didn’t have much money. So, Bedi had to work while studying in college. During the day, he focused on his studies, and at night, he worked as a freelance English newsreader at the radio station in New Delhi. Later he moved to Bombay and became a copywriter with Lintas Bombay and Ogilvy & Mather.
The Beatles and the life-changing experience
While Bedi was a newsreader at New Delhi, something amazing happened. He got a chance to interview the famous English rock band, The Beatles, quite by chance.
The band was in Bombay, and the people in the media were highly excited about it. Bedi who was only in his teens then wanted to talk to his favourite band as a media person. When he sought permission from his boss, he and everyone around thought that it was impossible because lots of journalists wanted the same thing, and they thought Bedi to be too small and inexperienced. But Bedi wouldn’t give up. Finally, he was given a special pass and a recorder and he went to the hotel where The Beatles were staying.
Young Bedi convinced The Beatles’ manager to let him interview the band by saying that he was a radio journalist with AIR and that the Indian government wanted the interview. They agreed. The interview went on air and Bedi was in seventh heaven. Later, he was heartbroken to discover that the radio station had deleted the interview due to lack of storage space as they didn’t have enough money for new tapes.
After graduating from St Stephens, Bedi moved to Bombay with a little money in his pocket, looking for new opportunities. He cashed in on his knack for writing and spent five years as a copywriter with Lintas Bombay and Ogilvy & Mather before stumbling into the field of acting.
Stumbling into acting
At Lintas, Bedi was working with legendary ad man Alyque Padamsee, who was also a noted theatre actor and producer. Padamsee decided to give Bedi a chance in acting by casting him in Girish Karnad’s play Tughlaq. The play was a huge hit and straight and soon, Bollywood offers started pouring in for Bedi. He grabbed them with both hands but remained associated with theatre, performing both in India and abroad.
“I really must thank Bollywood for getting me known through my first few big hits because that led to the Italian discovery. It was a huge decision for me to leave the security of the corporate world, where I was doing pretty well, and enter the uncharted waters and the perilous jungle of the Bollywood film industry. So that was certainly a decision that paid off, but at that time it was very scary,” Bedi remarked in an interview.
Love for Literature and lessons of life
In 2021, Bedi released his autobiography, ‘The Stories I Must Tell’. “My story is about my making, unmaking and remaking. My rise, ruin and resurrection,” he said after its release. Kabir had always loved writing. His father, Baba Pyare Lal Singh Bedi, was a philosopher and author while his mother, Freda Bedi, is considered the first western woman to take ordination in Tibetan Buddhism. “My mother was a very good writer, and my father was a very good speaker and thinker,” Bedi shared. Apart from his parents’ influence, he learned a lot of the craft of creative writing during his time as a copywriter.”
One of India’s most flamboyant stars, Bedi doesn’t hold back in his book. “Yes, I have lived a very flamboyant life. I’ve done a lot of extraordinary things. I’ve been in extraordinary relationships. But my life is not just about the triumphs. It’s also the tragedies,” he said. The darkest moment in his life was the suicide of his son, followed by the repercussions of a series of bad investments, which he had to learn to overcome.
“The way I did it was by remembering the spirit with which I had started my life,” he said “And also the meditation techniques I had learned as a Buddhist monk in Burma.” Bedi lives by the example of his parents, whom faced great financial adversity with great equanimity while he was growing up.
Giving back and setting an example
Bedi serves as the honorary brand ambassador for Italian charity Care and Share Italia. This organisation looks after and educates street children, from school to university, in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
He is also the brand ambassador for Rotary International South Asia for its Teach Programme and the Total Literacy Mission in India and South Asia. As the brand ambassador of the international organisation, Sightsavers he spreads awareness on eye health and care.
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He emerged from his low phase to begin a bright new second innings in his career, winning awards in India and abroad, and becoming the most beloved Indian in Italy is an example of the 77-year-old’s strong persona. He stands as an inspiration for people struggling to emerge winners in their own stories.