Kabir Bedi speaks to Guardian 20 on his upcoming release Sandukan, acting with Shah Rukh Khan in Dilwale, and his vast spanning career as an actor.
Q. Why did you decide to re-emaster Sandukan so many years after its initial release abroad?
A. Our purpose of re-mastering Sandukan was because we wanted to bring it to the next generation. It’s the same version as in the past, just dubbed in Hindi. Sandukan is the story of a man who is fighting the British Empire, the freedom of his people — a small band of people who are fighting against an empire. It is full of action and adventure, and it thrills and inspires you. It has its share of romance — high seas, and green jungles and fighting sequences. This film today is as fresh as it was when it was released, because it wasn’t shot on videotape — it was shot on film, so it remained vibrant. It is six hours long, and available on Amazon and Flipkart in a two DVD box set. Hopefully, after it runs for a while, we would release it on television as well.
Q. Tell us about working on your first Rohit Shetty film?
A. It is always nice to work on a big film like Dilwale. I didn’t have a long role but a bit part. Shah Rukh wanted me to do this film. I have known Shah Rukh from his Dil Aashna Hai days when he first came to Bombay. I worked with him for Mai Hoon Na, and over the years he’s become a fantastic superstar. If Shah Rukh wants you in a film, you are not going to say no. It sounded like a fun film so I decided to go ahead and do it, and keep up with my relationship with him.
Q. Do you feel there is a renewed interest in big historical epics, with Bajirao Mastani and Baahubali?
A. I’ve always liked these big, historical epics as films — Murder in the Cathedral, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr Zhivago — I love such films. I’ve done a lot of historical roles from Shah Jehan on stage to many a Maharajah, and then Sandukan. I feel historical films have a special place in my heart, though I don’t believe it is about the genre, it is more about a good story. If it is a bad story, no one is going to like it.
Q. Any big theatre productions coming up in the future?
A. Not in the future; I did a remarkable play in Canada, eighteen months ago on the life of Shah Jehan written by a Canadian dramatist John Murell, directed by the biggest opera director and we toured all of Canada with it. Hopefully we can bring it to India next year. Before that, I had done a play called The Far Pavilions in West End, London. The theatre is a 1,700 seater with gilded furniture and live orchestra playing while you perform. It was made into a mini-series by HBO and I played a part in its theatrical version.
Q. The West is talking about the golden age of television. Do you feel it is going to have an impact on the Indian film and television industry?
A. The standards of stories and production has been lifted so high, especially by American television, that the rest of the world has no option but to follow suit. It is a globalised world and people can see American television anywhere. It is very well to go on with the regular saas-bahu material but the audience will ultimately look for fresher, more gripping stuff, done in a much more film like fashion. That is the challenge that Indian television faces right now. I think there will be a lot more of that.
Q. Do you feel that the audience that watches American TV is niche in this country, and would it affect mainstream entertainment?
A. Yes, that audience is niche, but audiences will grow, dubbing will happen, and all kinds of things will take over so television should not be complacent. The biggest thing is this: television makes money from advertising. They keep the production budgets as small as possible to maximise their profits. What they are going to realise is that unless they start spending more on production, better writing, like they do in the West, they will lose their audiences. They will have to spend more than they are right now to retain their profitability. That’s where television needs to go. I’m sure if Sandukan is shown on television today, it will be considered a high quality product. It was shot like a film. It is very well to say the audiences like saas-bahu, and yes they do, but there is a whole new style of filmmaking, that the audience needs to be woken up to.
Q. How does Bollywood as an industry work differently from Western film industries?
A. I think Bollywood is much more like Western film industries than before. We used to take two years to complete a film; many films are being completed in two months now. Earlier, many scripts were written on set; now there are scripts that are written beforehand. Corporatisation has also brought a certain discipline to Bollywood. We are planning more, we are preparing more, we are better organized, and there is a different kind of filmmaking emerging in India which is not the traditional song-and-dance routine, but has moved beyond into deeper, more meaningful human stories, and there are films that are winning several awards. Bollywood breeds diversity — and more the diversity the better, it is an exciting time for Bollywood. It is a great time to be in the industry.