Pooja Bedi on being the quintessential rebel child in and out of Bollywood
Who doesn’t remember the iconic Marilyn Monroe-esque scene from the 1992 film Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander? Pooja Bedi had just stepped into the Bollywood film industry and managed to amaze the audience with her unique style and fashionable red dress.
The actor, model, columnist, television talk show host, and more recently, entrepreneur, has had an illustrious career expanding over three decades. Born to veteran actor Kabir Bedi and Indian classical dancer Protima Gauri Bedi, it was not much of a surprise when Pooja first appeared on the silver screen with Vishkanya, in 1991.
She rose to fame with Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, and eventually became a fashion icon. The actor has appeared in several TV commercials and campaigns, and has been known for breaking stereotypes in the Indian television industry. Bold and strong-headed, Pooja was probably one of the very first women to break the rules of the entertainment industry.
Three decades later, 50-year-old Pooja is still applauded for the bold KamaSutra condom campaign she shot in the early 90s to raise awareness of AIDS.
In an exclusive interaction with YS Weekender, the actor says, “I have always lived life on my own terms and conditions. Provided that I am obeying the law, there is no reason why I should not create my own path for my right and wrongs, yes and no, and what I would like to do. So, I guess if going against convention and stereotypes is called being a rebel, then yes I am still a rebel child.”
Pooja has been a columnist for Times of India, Hindustan Times, and Mid Day, and magazines like Femina and The Week. She has participated in reality TV shows Nach Baliye, Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, Big Boss, and Fear Factor: Khatron Ke Khiladi. Most recently, she appeared in the Netflix show Masaba Masaba.
Last year, Pooja took the entrepreneurial plunge and launched Happy Soul, a Goa-based ecommerce and retail startup, which provides diverse multi-vendor products, enabling consumers to lead a chemical-free, organic, healthy, and wholesome life.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
YourStory Weekender (YSW): Growing up, what were the few things that shaped your personality and life, in general?
Pooja Bedi (PB): I have always had a very healthy understanding that wellbeing is holistic and inclusive of one's mind, body, and spirit. Growing up, my mother filled my life with the works of brilliant philosophers and psychologists like Osho [Rajneesh], [Jiddu] Krishnamurthy, [Carl] Jung, [Sigmund] Freud, and more.
My grandfather Baba Bedi was a renowned energy healer, and my Buddhist grandmother Freda Bedi was an ordained nun; all of this had a major impact on the way I perceived life and the person I am today.
YSW: From your bold Kamasutra campaign to being an entrepreneur in the wellness space — how have you seen yourself evolve over the years?
PB: I have donned many hats over the past 30 years. I have taken on the avatar of an actor, model, talk show host, columnist, entrepreneur, and mother.
I allow life to lead me, and every part of my journey has led me to where I am today and helped me grow into the person I am today.
YSW: Being born to a classical dancer mother and a super-star father, did you ever face any kind of pressure to live up to certain expectations?
PB: Well, from my mother and father themselves, I have never had any pressure on what I should be doing or how I should be leading my life in any manner whatsoever. There was always encouragement, guidance, and a sense of you must live your life on your own terms and accomplish your own dreams.
I have never allowed myself to feel pressure from the outside world because I do my own thing.
The only pressure I have ever had to face is to conform, which I was firmly against because I believe it is just one life that we lead and one life that we live, so it is really important to make your own stamp and make your own journey.
No two human beings are the same and no two journeys can be the same either.
YSW: Was theatre a stepping stone into acting for you?
PB: I got into movie acting way before I got into theatre acting. Theatre was an entirely different ball game as I was interacting with an audience that was right in front of me; that was a thrill of its own.
But movies got me into theatre, not the other way around.
YSW: Do you miss the silver screen? Do you have any plans on returning to the big screen?
PB: My professional journey has been incredible. The roles that I have played, not just on-screen but even in real life as a model, brand ambassador, columnist, mom, wife, and ex-wife; all these journeys have been so incredible that I haven’t had time to miss anything.
I have enjoyed each and every role so much, and today, the role of being an entrepreneur is so utterly exciting, new, refreshing, and different. I must say I am utterly grateful that offers do still come in.
Recently, I did Masaba Masaba on Netflix and Comedy Couple on Zee5. All of it has been very interesting. I take the interesting stuff that comes my way no matter where it is from.
YSW: Do you enjoy the OTT space more than the big screen?
PB: I was on the big screen almost 30-years ago. That was a really long time ago and it had a charm of its own; the industry was very different from what it is today.
I have to say, on an OTT platform in this day and age, accompanied by social media, it is so handy because there are so many people who can watch from the comfort of their homes and get to interact with you through comments on social media. There is incredible interaction with your fan base; it is really quite overwhelming.
The silver screen had its own merits and plus points back then, but today OTT platforms are absolutely ruling the roost as far as I am concerned.
YSW: What have been your most important learnings from your parents?
PB: To be good human beings, to be compassionate, kind, caring, logical, and humanitarian. I think these are the greatest qualities that I have inherited and learnt from my parents.
YSW: Was your participation in Nach Baliye and Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa an attempt to follow your mother’s footsteps?
PB: My participation in Nach Baliye and Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa was purely reality show based. I think my mom, who is no more, would have died laughing watching my dance steps if she was alive.
They are not a match for what an incredible dancer she was. I think she might have been disappointed that I did not follow in her footsteps. But after watching me in Nach Baliye, she would not be.
YSW: What are the similarities between acting and entrepreneurship?
PB: There are a few similarities between acting and being an entrepreneur. Both require a lot of hard work, discipline, networking, and the ability to work in a team, as well as have good team spirit.
But they also have their differences. As an actor, you spend on yourself to grow your business but as an entrepreneur, you spend on others to grow a successful business.
YSW: How do you think we can get rid of the ‘female’ or ‘woman’ tag from an entrepreneur/actor or writer?
PB: I do not see anything wrong in being a woman or tagged as a woman or labelled as a woman. Being a woman is my strength.
Rather than being lost in a maze of entrepreneurs, I can be part of the woman entrepreneur gang and I think that is rewarding and incredible to have a sisterhood. It is wonderful to have your own space, a niche carved out for you or to have a parallel track to men and not want to be part of their space but create your own space.
I think strength, power, integrity, and compassion that women embody in every aspect of their work and life. I think if I was called a ‘woman’ anything, I would be very happy about it.
It also gives women a position, acknowledged power, and it is very motivating for other women who are watching and learning about women entrepreneurs, women actors, and women in different fields of life and how they too can emulate, and take their lives forward similarly.
YSW: Have you ever faced any kind of an identity crisis?
PB: I have never really faced an identity crisis as per se. But it is really interesting when you go to foreign countries and they do not recognise you, and you can just walk the street and not be stared at or have people nudge each other and whisper or yell out your name.
It is really nice to walk down the streets and be so free. The lack of identity is hugely exhilarating and freeing.
YSW: What are some of the learnings from your acting career that you implement in your entrepreneurial journey?
PB: Acting is a lot of hard work and it requires a lot of discipline. That’s something that I carry with me and that has helped me on my journey as an entrepreneur.
YSW: Between being a writer, an actress and an entrepreneur, which role do you enjoy the most?
PB: Every role that I have chosen has been close to my heart, whether it is being an actor, a model, a talk show host, a reality TV star, a columnist, or an entrepreneur.
YSW: What next? Are you working on any big project?
PB: This is a very exciting time as my company is constantly growing and evolving. Happy Soul is all set to expand into other verticals of wellness, including a health channel, wellness centres, spas, and more.
We have recently launched our very own wellness home decor range of products that consist of eco-friendly soy wax scented candles, sustainable and hand-rolled incense sticks, and beautiful dragonfly agate coasters.
We have also tied up with Francorp to roll out 50 new franchises worldwide in the next three years. As an entrepreneur, I cannot wait to explore all the amazing new things that Happy Soul has in the works.
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta