The two Indian stars were honoured before the Bond retrospective began at the festival in Goa on Tuesday.
The 48th edition of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) had announced that it would hold a special tribute for the James Bond franchise with a retrospective screening nine films of the fictional British spy. The first film to be screened yesterday was John Glen’s Octopussy (1983), thirteenth in the franchise.
The film holds a special attraction for Indian audiences as it featured two Indian stars, actor Kabir Bedi and tennis player Vijay Amritraj. While Bedi played the henchman Gobinda, Amritraj, making his acting debut, played Vijay, an MI6 agent in India.
The two stars were honoured before the screening yesterday. Apparently, it was Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar’s idea to have the Bond retrospective and both Bedi and Amritraj thanked him for this. They then walked the red carpet to the screening.
Talking about his experience working on Octopussy, Bedi said, “To be part of a Bond film is something very special in the life of an actor. Bond films have a certain ecosystem; there is a tribe of fans around the world that follows these films. It is a passion that is so hard to describe. They are absolutely committed to knowing everything about everyone. So any actor who played any role in a Bond film automatically plugs into that ecosystem.”
The debonair actor, who was last seen on the Hindi screen in the Ashutosh Gowariker dud Mohenjo Daro (2016), joked that the number of requests Bond film actors get for autographed photographs is so high that “if you send everyone a photograph you would probably spend more than what you made on the film. In those days prints were very expensive, too.”
However, it was exciting to be part of one of the most successful franchises in film history, he said.
“It was wonderful working with [the late] Roger Moore,” he said. “He was an iconic Bond. It was also wonderful for me as an Indian actor to come back to India to shoot a Bond film in Udaipur [in Rajasthan].”
Bedi was glad to share the stage at IFFI with good friend Amritraj. “I think this film is equally thrilling for me after all these years, standing with my buddy Vijay Amritaj and sharing the moment of seeing a Bond retrospective at an Indian festival where two Indians were part of that film.”
Amritraj, who remains the only Indian tennis player to get into the top 20 in the ATP men’s singles rankings — he was ranked 16 for a while in 1980 — personally knew six of the seven actors to have played Bond so far, forming great bonds (no pun intended) with Sean Connery, Moore and Pierce Brosnan.
“There are more people to have walked on the moon than played James Bond,” he remarked. “Six of those who played this iconic character, I have had the good fortune of spending time with. All the way back from Sean Connery, who did six pictures, then they found an Australian actor George Lazenby, and then of course my dear friend, the late Sir Roger Moore, who played Bond in seven films. Then came Timothy Dalton who had two films until my friend Pierce Brosnan came over from [the television series] Remington Steele and went on to do Bond.”
As for the current Bond, Amritraj said Daniel Craig has “brought back to the character what Sean used to do. I think he is playing the character so beautifully, it’s great for today’s audiences.”
Talking about Octopussy, Amitraj said, “It was my first picture. The late [producer] Albert R Broccoli watched me play at Wimbledon when he pulled me off to do a screen test. He got me on the screen, that was my first picture, and then there was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). I went on to do several other shows in the US.”
Continuing, he said Octopussy “gave me the great opportunity to understand what goes into the making of a film, especially one as iconic as a Bond film. So I was delighted to be part of it. I didn’t like the fact that I was killed by an Indian [Bedi’s character]. I offered to kind of make a comeback and play him on the tennis court, but Kabir refused. The fact remains that it was a great delight to work with Roger Moore and Kabir.”
Cinestaan.com caught up with Bedi at the red carpet later. Asked about any memories that spring to mind, he said, “There are many, but I think shooting the film in Udaipur around the Lake Palace was special because it got a lot of India’s beautiful architectural history. I remember my ex-wife Protima Gupta came and did the Odissi dance for the troupe. It was just a wonderful time to be in a Bond film to be shot in India.”
Did it take time to sink in when he was offered the role? “No,” he said. “I had that time done an important film in Italy [the television mini-series Sandokan in 1976]. I became famous for that. They [the Bond filmmakers] wanted to internationalize the cast, cash in on international popularity, so they added me to the cast. My job was to bring as much threat and menace to the role with the minimum amount of words.”
At the time of Roger Moore’s death in May this year, Bedi had recalled how it had taken him time to get along with the popular British actor who was an introvert in real life. So what helped to break the ice? “Long walks in the north of England, the railway yards of Peterborough, where we shooting the fight-on-the-train sequences,” he recalled before heading off for a special autorickshaw ride with Amritraj.