The Angst of Sandokan

Sandokan, by the second half of the 19th century, was a young Indian prince diminished of his title and kingdom by British imperialists. To avenge this disastrous turn of events, he made constant attacks on the British forces, in his new avatar as the captain of a den of pirates. Although Sandokan is a character developed by the Italian writer Emilio Salgari, to put a face on the name isn’t hard considering that Kabir Bedi immortalised Salgari’s character through television. On the 3rd of April 2018, the Sandokan we all know, chose to speak about “surviving in fast changing times.” And to do so, he took us back in time, to when Sandokan was still Kabir Bedi.

Kabir Bedi started his career in advertising for Lowe Lintas and afterwards worked at Ogilvy and Mather. Through advertising, he met Alyque Padamsee, and together they brought back to the stage Tughlaq, Girish Karnad’s play. One among the audience members, at one of the several housefull showcases, was film director B.R. Chopra. The director was known for spotting talent, and lost no time in showing his appreciation for Kabir Bedi’s interpretation of Tughlaq by sending across a contract. On signing the contract, our Tuesday speaker’s fate was sealed. He was soon to be a Bollywood star.

According to Kabir Bedi, the journey from advertising to theatre to films was very exciting, but he was soon expected to be a “singing, dancing actor.” As he put it, “It wasn’t my scene.” This encouraged him to seek out opportunities beyond Bollywood. The first of such opportunities was to go to Rome to audition for Sergio Sollima’s six-part television series Sandokan. And, as they say, the rest was history.

Like any of the popular Netflix series of today, Sandokan of the 1970s struck a chord in everyone’s hearts. It changed  the speaker’s life forever. The opportunities only increased, but he confessed, “One of my greatest existential angsts was, where should I be?” If he was shooting for a film in Europe, it was at the cost of losing an opportunity in Bollywood or Hollywood. And obviously, he couldn’t be in three places at the same time. “One has to adjust in such a situation,” he pointed out.

Charles Darwin was quoted, “It is not the most intellectual or the strongest of species that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself.” Kabir Bedi offers us the same solution when trying to survive in fast changing times. By taking the example of digitisation, he was able to further elaborate on his theory of adjustment. “We all believe that these changes are essential, but overpowering in their own way, and we have to find ways of dealing with it,” he asserted. His way of dealing with it is by taking a digital detox from time to time: “If you agree not to give yourself to technology, and take some time off, I feel that you’ll be able to enrich your lives in so many other ways.”