Sons and Fathers: Adam Bedi on Kabir Bedi

I first remember dad when I was about two years old. It was in Los Angeles and there was this man with the camera shooting pictures of me, in my backyard. Dad was always the avid family photographer and two decades later, he still has those photographs of me taking my first tentative steps.

A year later my parents split and they finally divorced when I was six.  Consequently, I grew up seeing dad only on summer holidays and during Christmas when he came down to the US. When he was down, he’d take me to the movies and buy me buckets of popcorn in the intermission. A few years later, as a teenager,  I’d fly down to India to be with him during his shoots. I must have visited him about a dozen times in just a couple of years. Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, I was all over the place. Of this period I have broken memories, because they were essentially sporadic meetings.

I knew that he was famous quite early on. I grew up with it. Ever since I can remember there were always cameras in his face, then there were the newspaper articles as also the movies he acted in. It was a very pleasant realisation, he was always like a ‘wow’ figure in my life. When I was in school in the US.  I would play truant so that I could watch him on The Bold and the Beautiful. Of course I missed his presence in my life all the time, but at least I could connect with him, in some way, on TV.

He was not a neglectful dad. When I entered adolescence, there was a time I needed him to be in my life really urgently. It was for a rites-of-passage function, a non-religious ceremony and he came for it, travelling all the way to America from India. When I think about it he has always been there when I needed him the most.  We didn’t take long holidays together only because he was a terribly busy man and when I had holidays it didn’t necessarily mean that he had holidays too.

My mother disciplined me, only because I spent more time with her. Dad had a transatlantic lifestyle; a jet-setting life has its own pros and cons and I don’t blame him for the way our lives turned out.

Mine was a teenage rebellion. It was not against what dad was, but because we’d had a huge gap in communication for a number of years, I could no longer relate to his life. Then, at 17, I went and spent a year with him in England. That was one of the best periods in my life. For the first time, I understood him as a person, as my father, my best friend and my roommate. It was not just in a father-son relationship, I related to him as an individual then.

Two years ago, I was at a loose end, teaching snowboarding in Colorado and it struck me that soon the snows would melt and I’d have nothing to do afterwards. I called up dad and told him that I was planning to join the US. army. It was an emotional time, I could see that he didn’t want me to do that and I was more or less stuck on it.  He said, “Why don’t you come down to India and do your Dive Master’s in Goa, instead?” which was a tempting offer. “Give it three weeks,” is what he said. Goa was an offer I couldn’t refuse and thus he got me to come down to India.

I came to India two years ago and proceeded to do my scuba diving course which lasted three months.  On my way back to the States, I stopped by briefly in Mumbai and there was an evening I spent with the family and step-family. Pooja suggested that I stay back in India for a while, but I told her that I didn’t want to ditch my friends back in the States. They retorted, “What’re you gonna do when you go back?” That got me thinking because I really didn’t know.  So I stayed and have been here since.

It was my step-family that persuaded me to stay. Though the family, all the step-brothers and sisters combined may seem chaotic to the outside world, believe it or not, we’re one big, happy family. We don’t have any huge grudges against each other. It’s like having a best friend or having several best friends.

Even though we’re in the same country, we hardly see each other. But that’s because we’re both busy. My career is still taking off and he’s shooting three films simultaneously—so it’s hard to catch up. In the last two months, I’ve seen him for maybe six-seven days. Yet the longer I’m in India, the more I’m beginning to resemble him. There are certain things that are similar from the outset—like our eyes and eyebrows. Yet I’m my own person.

Professionally he’ll help me out occasionally by putting me in touch with someone he knows. But after that the work, the modelling I do is on my own steam. It’s on my own merit and he’s proud of that.  But he’s still my greatest mentor and I always run work offers by him. He’s the person I call up first when I need advice and I stick by what he tells me.

Dad is my best friend and I keep no secrets from him. When I’m at his house, there’s me in my usual chair, chatting with him over a drink and a cigarette. We relate on a one-to-one basis and there’s nothing I wouldn’t tell him about my life. Yet he remains the father figure. I’m proud of the fact that he always changes with the times and updates himself with every new development both in technology and in the arts. How many parents are like that?  Another wonderful quality about him is that he always treats everyone with a similar love and respect—whether it’s the cleaning lady or a film mogul. 

I only hope to be in love with my wife, longer than he was with my mother. I don’t blame him for it or for the fact that he was away from my life for so long because when a man and a woman fall out of love you don’t expect them to stay together. Yet I hope that I don’t fall out of love with my wife in a hurry.

I’ve never felt any lack of love from my father. Everything from him has been love, kindness and wanting the best for me. I don’t resent my father at all because when my mother remarried I had my stepfather come in as a father figure while Kabir was away. Our family is like an extending tree on all sides and despite the divorces and separations on all sides, we’re a very happy family.

Images by Ashima Narain

This story was originally featured in our April 2003 issue.