The Italian Almanac

Kabir Bedi as Sandokan

Sandokan Knighted in Mumbai

Indian actor Kabir Bedi, longtime interpreter of the beloved Emilio Salgari character of Sandokan the pirate on Italians' TV screens, has been decorated with the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. "I've received many marks of recognition in my life," a visibly moved Bedi said in Mumbai, "but this one is particularly important to me because it's being given by Italy, a country to which I am eternally indebted for it has made me what I am today."

To the notes of the unforgettable song that was the soundtrack to the highly popular 1976 RAI television series, Italy's ambassador to India, Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte, pinned the coveted ribbon and cross to Bedi's black kurta. Bedi played the character of Sandokan in hundreds of series and films in Italy, India and the US. "This is a sign of our appreciation of a man of exceptional magnetism, who unquestionably played a significant role as a bridge between Italian and Indian culture," the ambassador said.

Indian media widely commented on Bedi's knighting, which was formally proposed by the office of Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and conferred by the office of Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. Bedi's long career began in Bollywood, where he has played in at least 60 films. His international breakthrough came when he was cast as the famous pirate in the television series on state broadcaster RAI.

Before an audience that included leading lights from Indian cinema and the arts as well as Italian representatives, Bedi recalled how the Sandokan series bewitched an entire generation in the 1970s. "I can assure you that when city streets all over Italy were suddenly deserted and Fiat assembly lines stopped, it meant Sandokan was on the air," Bedi said.

The actor thanked a long list of friends and former colleagues, beginning with director Sergio Sollima, who gave Bedi his Italian starring role, as well as the RAI producers who took on what was an expensive project at the time. Bedi also thanked "the many French and Italian friends" he made on the Sandokan set, among them Philippe Leroy, who played the pirate's best friend Yanez De Gomera, Carole Andre', who played Sandokan's love interest, Lady Marianna Guillonk, and film critic Tullio Kezich, who died in 2009.