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Born: October 12, 1948
Died: August 18, 1998
Profession Odissi Dancer, Model
In 1953, her family moved to Goa, and later to Bombay, where she received much of education, including college education, at St. Xavier’s College, Bombay.
Called a ‘Kali’ [darkie] for being dark and maybe ferocious like ‘Kaali-ma’, she grew up with a huge complex about her looks. Maybe it was this subconscious feeling that drew her to the several men in her life. As she herself admits, even her marriage seems to have been to prove a point , that she could get someone as good looking and as sought after as Bedi.
She had become a prominent model by late 1960s. In 1974, she came into news for streaking during the daytime near Juhu Beach in Bombay.
It was during her wild modelling days that she met Kabir Bedi. Within a few months of their meeting, she walked out of her parents’ house to live with him. They got married in 1969 and had two children – Pooja and Siddharth.
Kabir and she subsequently divorced, according to many because of the nude picture.
Protima Bedi's son Siddharth committed suicide in Carnegie Mellon University where he was doing Computer science.
But, a feeling of guilt pervaded her all through, as her memoir shows – whether she had done enough for a cheating husband, if she had given enough of herself for her children, how only she was responsible for bringing up the kids, how she felt solely responsible for her son’s untimely death and so on.
Protima herself died in 1998, when she was one of 108 people killed in a landslide in UP on her way to the Mansarovar Yatra. She was 50 when she died.
In August 1975, at the age of 26, an Odissi dance recital completely changed her life when she ran into the Bhulabhai Memorial Institute by chance, and saw two young dancers giving an Odissi performance. It filled her with a kind of passion she’d never known before, in spite of its extremely complex rhythms, patterns and sophisticated hand-and-eye gestures.
She became a student of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra from whom she learnt the art of dancing for 12 to 14 hours a day and faced a lot of hardship as a beginner. She transformed herself from being the tight trouser, halter neck, off-shoulder girl with gold streaked hair to Protima Gauri, later as Gauri Amma or Gauri Maa, as she was affectionately known amongst her students.
Vinod Mehta’s recollections
Vinod Mehta, Lucknow Boy: A Memoir Penguin/Viking | Pages: 325 | Rs .499
Kabir Bedi, then a rising Bollywood star, had emerged as the sole spokesman intelligently defending our magazine (Debonair). In interview after interview, he would ask if we were a nation of prudes and hypocrites. He welcomed Debonair’s brave attempt to make India proud of its heritage and Khajuraho past. The naked female body was a thing to celebrate, he argued. Of course, only till such time as the naked female body did not belong to his wife.
I had got to know Protima Bedi well. She shared her husband’s views on the naked body; only she was more genuine. So, when I got a call from her asking if I would like to have a look at some ‘lovely’ pictures of her in the raw, I could hardly contain my enthusiasm. The pictures were more than ‘lovely’, they were a knockout—beautifully shot and composed, evoking Protima’s scrumptious dark anatomy magnificently. I quickly sent her a model contract form, which she duly signed. I barged into (proprietor) Susheel Somani’s cabin: “You won’t believe it, but we have Protima Bedi’s nudes!” It was a coup.
In the ’70s, four-colour printing was a laborious process; you printed one colour at a time—red, yellow, black and blue. We had printed two of the four colours, when Kabir rang. He did not sound friendly. Would I immediately return the Protima pictures, they were not to be used. Too late, chum, I told him, they are already on the machine, being printed.
The next day two Bollywood heavies—oily moustache, technicolor handkerchief around the neck, menacing rings on each finger—arrived unannounced. “Sahib ne bola photo nahin chhapne ka hai (Sahib has said the pictures are not to be printed),” they thundered. One of them rudely stubbed his cigarette on my ashtray.
A couple of hours later, Protima rang. She was distraught. “Kabir is behaving like a bastard. He says his career will be ruined if the pictures are published. Can you help?” She disclosed that her marriage was on the line. The last plea, about the break-up of marriage, got me. With great difficulty and at enormous cost, we pulled the centrespread off the machine. “I’ll make it up to you,” Protima promised. She never did.
Naked for CineBlitz, too
i) Protima Bedi ran naked in 1974 for the launch of Cineblitz magazine.
ii) She ran **** near Flora Fountain [this is new; the Juhu ‘streak’ is the one most people know about] and later at Juhu, and the photo was published in the magazine. [Here again Its Box Office and Ajit Vadakayil are refreshing our memory. Most of us had forgotten the Cineblitz shoot and remember only Debonair. Its Box Office and Ajit Vadakayil have provided proof in the form of a clipping from CineBlitz.)
Remember the Tracy Chapman song: "You got a fast car, I got a ticket to anywhere, maybe we can make a deal, maybe together we can get somewhere …u got a fast car, is it fast enough we can fly away."
Protima's was something of that desire to fly away, to a land of hope and happiness.
In her relationships with Pandit Jasraj, Vasant Sathe, Kabir Bedi, Mario Kropf, Jacques Lebel and Rajni Patel, she wanted to freeze forever the heady feeling of being in a fast car - always that impossible wish to be carried away by a dream lover, quite like Karan Kapoor in the Bombay Dyeing ad, to that ultimate place - Il Paradiso.
Psychoanalyst Madhu Sarin says the deep neglect she felt on being the unwanted, unloved child of parents in an unhappy marriage, left an indelible scar. As an adult she kept searching for that love and security to compensate for the neglect.
The men she associated with had extra-ordinary qualities. Kabir Bedi was good looking, Rajni Patel was a first rate lawyer and a powerful man in the Congres party, Vasant Sathe was the then union minister, Pandit Jasraj happened to be a famous the singer. By fusing with them she naively thought she could appropriate some of their name, fame and power for herself and fill the emptiness within herself.
But when the scales fell away and the heroes were revealed as normal human beings, Protima floundered.
"Protima was always seeking an elusive perfect fantasy love object. Someone who would love her absolutely and unconditionally - and never disappoint her. This was in part, because she was unable to psychically cope with the pain and compromise which is an inevitable part of any real relationship: It was too overwhelming," says Sarin. Unable to make the moments in the relationship a part of her growing up experience, it all became a game...A timepass.
He was the Greek god - tall with a sexy body, a killer smile and fascinating eyes which changed colour with his moods. Protima was dying for his attention but she would not have him think that she lusted for him.
In her book Timepass, she says how secretly she would go through his appointment diary at Bensons and then land up with a new boyfriend wherever he was to come. Kabir never seemed to notice her enough until at a dinner party organised by her friends Nani and Kabir Ghumman. In a silvered night, with the senses heightened with the pot they had smoked, Kabir and Protima were soon in each other's arms.
"This was the night when he would fall truly and madly in love with me. My life will never be the same again…" Protima was very soon to move in with Kabir.
"The idea of living in sin with Kabir was so utterly wicked, fascinating. We lived like man and wife. Of course, it was a game. Mending his clothes, cooking for your man, all things which married women find such a bore." Marriage was not on their minds but with Protima pregnant, Kabir suggested they marry.
Kabir, then, was still a struggling actor while Protima was a well-known model known for her wild ways. Soon, Kabir was to gain popularity in films and the roles would reverse. It would also mark the beginning of the first sign of disenchantment in the relationship. The rose tinted love glasses were falling away
At the film parties, starlets flocked to the handsome Kabir and unabashedly lusted for him. Sonia Sahni, a friend of Protima told her once: "Don't be selfish with your husband. You have him all your life. Let us share him now."
But these small flirtations (Kabir caught kissing one of her friends (Gita) hungrily in their bedroom, Kabir and Zeenat Aman, Kabir and Parveen) flared into ugly quarrels.
When she confronted him with his flings he would say: "In my line it is very important that women are attracted to me. If an actress wants you then she chases you and if she does not get you then she suggests your name to a producer…one has to play this game."
Was this the shy, beautiful, sensitive Kabir to whom she had been attracted?
Her star-struck attachment to Kabir vanished. She just did not feel sexually attracted to him anymore, and soon, both were looking for sex and companionship outside marriage.
In 1971, Protima had a miscarriage but because Kabir had made a commitment for the movie Seema, he had to leave for the shooting.
She was emotionally vulnerable and lonely - two things Protima could never handle on her own. That's when she met her German neighbour, Siegfred Kienzel, who was in India on a company assignment.
She was standing at the window taking in the morning light when she first saw him returning from a morning jog. "The sun touched his brown hair turning it to gold. His skin was glowing with the warmth of the morning run". Protima could feel her heart ticking again.
The festival of Holi gave her an opportunity to interact with Fred. He ringed her life with family feeling. Pooja, Protima and Fred would go out for a swim, for camel rides, where Fred would pretend he was the prince carrying away the oriental princess. He was Pooja's (then eight months old) horse carrying her around on his back and then sometimes charging at her like a mad bull and the pretty toddler would go off into shrieks of delight.
After Pooja was tucked into bed, Protima and Fred would sit together sharing cigarettes and rum and chatter endlessly. It was picture perfect like those beautiful covers on the glossy romantic novels. The kind of life Protima had yearned.
The sexual tension between Protima and Fred had been building up. There had been nothing more than kisses, close hugs and touches till now. One day, over a breakfast of butter toast and marmalade at Fred's place, the days of sexual teasing found release in an "amazing hunger." Protima says: "We made love every morning, when he came home in the afternoon, in the evening when he returned from work, then at night. It wasn't enough."
Kabir returned from his shooting and to Protima, he seemed like an intruder into her happy family with Fred. But Kabir persuaded her to stay back. Her original love, Kabir, had come back to her. And Fred drifted away…
Odissi provided the consuming passion after the break with Kabir. While working on a dance ballet, Geet Govinda she met Pandit Jasraj - gentle, saintly, innocent. The contrast with the glamourous Kabir was just the right combination she needed after the tumultuous relationship. She was like an "apsara seducing the sage."
There was something more exotic about him which intrigued her, though. Herself, never a person to indulge in religious rituals, she was taken up with the "drim, zing" rituals for goddess Kali intrinsic to Jasraj's family. His father especially fascinated her. He had been a great womanizer in his younger days and the charm seemed quite intact still. He would specially give Protima prasad from his silver thali, favour her in front of everyone. It was all the more special because the father's praise earned her respect and love in Jasraj's eyes. It elevated her self-esteem.
In their five-year relationship, Jasraj taught Protima the aesthetics and intricacies of artistic expression. With him, Protima changed from the dare-bare woman to one who was now always in a sari, a big bindi, a gajra.
But would the happy moments last, she wondered!
But Jasraj was too possessive and jealous a lover. He wanted all her time despite being a married man. She was finding it suffocating.
In a trip with Jasraj to Rajni Patel's office to sort out a legal matter, she was bowled over by the flirtatious charm of Rajni Patel and flattered to have his attention. Jasraj, the possessive lover, was enraged. It was to be the beginning of the end of her relationship. Soon, Protima was to discard the Kali temple in her house and the regular prayers. It was his love which urged her to carry out the rituals. With the love gone, the urge died.
Rajni Patel was dying… he had cancer when he met Protima. He had implored her to spend two days with him in Delhi. He had allowed her to use his office for co-ordinating work at the Odissi center at SNDT University. He had also cancelled his return to Delhi so that he could watch Protima's dance performance.
The relationship had picked up when she accidental saw Rajni Patel crying bitterly in his room. Protima was stunned to find the "great Rajni Patel" crying. For her it was the most natural thing to reach out to a person in pain and she had embraced him.
Then, he had confided in her: He had cancer and only a few months to live. His immediate need for her made her feel alive, wanted.
In the two days she spent with Rajni and they lived like man and wife. They would eat together, read newspapers during the day, and the nights would turn close and intimate at the Cuffe Castle residence. Those were the best days of her life, she says.
He was her "foxy", "wolfy" lover. She loved to hear his soothing voice uttering endearments in Gujarati, calling her my love, my child. He made her feel like a loved, pampered child. He made her feel like the ultimate woman.
Those days were full of "trivial things that make a house a home," she wrote in her book Timepass. Of course, it was a world of make believe. The termination of the relationship was already rooted in her mind.
He had asked her if she wanted to be mayor of Bombay and she knew he could do it. He had made his protégé, Sharad Pawar, the chief minister of Maharashtra. The kingmaker was her lover.
But soon Rajni's wife Bakul found out about the affair. Vasant Sathe, her lover to be, says that Bakul was a beautiful and dominating woman in her own right and she immediately placed checks on their meetings.
After a long, long time, when Protima met Rajni at Vir and Malavika Sanghvis wedding, he refused to even acknowledge her. Protima was stung. Before he died, she received strange, gruff calls from him. He said: I love you. I want to die soon because I do not want to live without seeing you."
So what if the family did not understand their love. The driver Janoo knew of their love. He had given her the respectful nod when the family ignored her at the funeral. Her da was hers. "I was taking my da with me. I finally had him to myself forever. I had no need for anything else".
V asant Sathe
Vasant Sathe had met her first at the Khajuraho dance festival and was impressed by her arresting personality and her eyes.
"I was like a father figure, a confidant to her. In my association, I have always known her as clear hearted. I have been closely associated with the world of dance. The life span of a dancer is so short that one never loses the opportunity to pull down the other. But never Protima.
"When people call her immoral what exactly does the term mean. Who sets the standards of morality and immorality? The men who had a relationship with her are never spoken about in bad terms. By the same paradigm they should be called immoral too. Those who call her superficial are wrong too. When she set her mind on something, she poured herself into it. Nrityagram is an outstanding example of that and so also is her mastery of Odissi, a difficult dance form which she learnt so late at the age of 26. But she excelled in it.
Her childlike heart was her asset. She once came to my house dressed in a flimsy, revealing dress, a short skirt and a revealing top. This attire at 10.30 in the morning! My wife came out and was shocked to see her in that state and gave her a piece of her mind. She told her that decent girls do not dress up like this. Protima replied: "But, I always dress like this." After that she did not dress in a similar manner when she came to visit me."
To Protima, Manu was the pillar she could rest upon. Vasant Sathe denies any intimacies with her but Protima writes of their intimate moments too.
There was a time when he wanted to kiss her and hold her but she did not want a sexual relationship with him anymore. Manu agreed. He would listen to her, go with her moods. She did not want him as a lover but she could not bear to see him go away also. She wanted to be his friend, not his woman.'
Yet she wanted him to drown in her love for him. But passionate love and friendship was impossible.
Questions tormented her: "Why did I have this need to have my men prove the extent to which they loved me. I drove them all up the wall with my insecurities."
Life was stagnating. The dance had magic no more. She had met Marc Zuber at a party and tried acting sexy, clever, charming... She knew she could ensnare him but it thrilled her no more.
The search for that perfect relationship was tiring her.
Till she met Mario Kropf on a blind date. "He was the sporty, outdoor man, direct and unspoilt by social graces.. It was easy to love him," she says. They had fabulous sex together. Protima says: "The best I had given and got…I wish he could give me his all and still maintain his relationship with his wife and children."
And this time she wanted to concentrate solely on this relationship, give it her all.
With him, she perhaps went the farthest in a relationship after Kabir. There were plans to live together. Mario had even divorced his wife. Things were moving smoothly. But Mario once acted funny with Pooja. And that ended the relationship. When she felt she had the perfect man, fate had other plans.
The sadness spread till it became a total eclipse of the heart:"I have wanted a man to love me completely. But I have always had to make do with half a man. It was so painful to have a husband who loved other woman and again more painful to be the other woman and have your man go back to his wife and family."
Always the adolescent fantasy of a man who would love her - truly, madly, deeply. It never happened.
Not Ramakrishna Hegde?
Humra Quraishi added in The Metro Gnome, ‘I had been seeing her at various events in the capital city…There would be a direct emphasis on her breasts through the cholis she wore, which were invariably low-necked, her ample bosom more than making its presence felt.
‘She was ill at ease fielding questions on the then reigning political figure of Karnataka, Ramakrishna Hegde, whose name was linked with hers in those days. On being asked about romantic or sexual links with him, she retorted, “It that was true (that she was having an affair with Hegde), I wouldn’t be begging for money for my dance school. Right now I feel like a beggar, asking for donations of Rs 100 or Rs 10,000. But there’s no giving up. No way.” ‘