Why Kabir Bedi wanted to be as vulnerable as possible for ‘Stories I Must Tell’

Actor Kabir Bedi discusses ‘Stories I Must Tell: The Emotional Life of an Actor’, surfing through heartbreaks and dealing with the loss of a dear one in his deeply personal memoir

When Kabir Bedi sat down to pen his memoir, Stories I Must Tell, launched in April by actor Priyanka Chopra, he offhandedly pasted a sticker onto his computer that read: “Be vulnerable.” It resulted in reliving a quagmire of emotions and a deeply contemplative book beyond the regular glitz and glam of filmdom, a deep dive into the psyche of a personality who has seen it all.

It is a story of love and loss, but also milestones and mistakes — Bedi’s words, not mine. “It is a story of what it takes to be a human; to go through the rollercoaster of emotions I went through and the lessons that emerged. I wrote the book to inspire people and at the same time, caution them about the joys and dangers of success,” says Kabir Bedi, ahead of his talk as part of FICCI FLO Chennai’s chapter titled Stories We Must Hear.

Kabir Bedi is a ball of yarn. It is another thing that the stories he has write themselves. Like, for instance, when we reached out to him, he took us by a delightful surprise, narrating a fascinating nugget of memory involving his parents and A Rangaswami Iyengar, the then Editor of The Hindu. “When my father [Baba Pyare Lal Singh Bedi] who was an Indian and my mother [Freda Bedi] who was British met and fell in love at Oxford, it created a lot of controversy because the institution was quite racist at that point of time. It was The Hindu’s Editor [Rangaswami Iyengar] who supported them and my brother [Ranga Bedi] was named in his honour,” says Bedi, in his imposing baritone.

Connecting over a video call from Mumbai, Bedi shares another interesting memory behind the cover photo of the book, which has him resembling a modern artist’s version of Christ. Following his success in Europe, thanks to the Sandokan series, Bedi wanted to get photographed by Terry O’Neill, a celebrated photographer of the era who had shot The Beatles, Pink Floyd and British royalty. “He shot a number of photos but he felt this particular one was quite special. It was a big compliment coming from him and I kept this photo sacred in my belongings. I was looking at contemporary pictures of mine for the cover, and it was my wife [Parveen] who said it was the best picture I have.”

Here, edited excerpts from the interview:

When you started writing this book, what were the images that came to you?

I thought I had a hell of a story to tell. But when I sat down to write, I began to think: ‘how am I going to tell this story?’ Because, if I start from the beginning, it is boring and if I start from the middle, the flashback seemed distracting. I decided to tell mine as a human story, starting from college days at St Stephen’s and the interview I did with The Beatles, which changed my life forever.

You started out in the ‘70s and became a bona fide star in Europe. You have worked with some of the biggest names in Indian and European cinema…were you at all worried about being self-indulgent?

I was determined not to be. I haven’t shied away from stating the wrongs and I haven’t spared myself either. I have been equally brutal in the mistakes I made or should have done differently. It was also the story of the depths in which I fell into and how I rose from it. I was relooking at my younger self more compassionately in the most interesting way possible. In that sense, it was cathartic.

One of the things that was mentioned in most of the reviews of the book was how honest it is. Of course, you cannot write an autobiography without being honest to yourself but does it come with a fair share of baggage, especially when other people are involved, like in relationships?

I had a choice: either to sugarcoat it or tell the story as authentically as possible, even if it involves other people. Secondly, it involves revisiting parts of your past that you hope to forget or not revisit. But if it is part of my story I have to share it. And to share it with the emotions or with the trauma or with the dilemmas I felt, posed a challenge. The emotional chapters were the hardest to write — whether relationships or my son’s suicide, or the ranching setbacks I faced in Hollywood in my later years.

The tricky part about penning down from the memory bank is that it can go either way. How would you describe the writing process, was it therapeutic or did it make you go further down the rabbit hole, like the chapter about your son?

You have to dive in. There is no other way than to relive in its complete complexity, in its beauty and tragedy. Whatever resistances I had about my life came before the book.

Spirituality is another key aspect that you discuss in the book…

My spirituality mostly comes from the Sikh relation from my father, who became a new-age philosopher in Italy. My mother was always spiritually curious and became the first woman in the world to receive higher ordination in Tibetan tradition. But beyond that there was my own curiosity. I have read Prophet Muhammad, Buddha, the Gita and they offer great human values. But what they said were different. There was a deeper question of ‘what’s the truth?’ I went on to seek answers from new-age philosophers like Osho, J Krishnamurti and so on. At the end of my journey, I believed in something which was a summation of many beliefs that resonated with me. People who are interested in that aspect of life and philosophy will relate to that chapter.

You bare yourself in a contemplative way, looking at yourself and your life with an objective lens. Is your book a heartfelt apology or a stubborn justification?

None of those. It is to give people a vicarious sense of what it is like to be a man who has been out of many relationships. To understand the idealistic era of the freedom struggle where my parents came from, and what it took them from being revolutionaries to becoming religious figures. To understand what it takes to be in Hollywood where they aren’t writing roles for you; what it takes to be noticed by James Bond fans around the world.

What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger…

Absolutely. Abraham Lincoln said you learn things from adversity. I think your character shows both in adversity and success. Both bring out who you really are.

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