Protima Bedi (Hindi:प्रोतिमा बेदी)best remembered as a classical Indian dancer, was equally popular as a ramp model of the 1970s fashion diasporas in India. In fact she was one of the most popular celebrity faces in the world of fashion and dance in the country. However it was negative criticism that Protima Bedi had to face for the choices she made both in her career and her personal life. Much of the controversy surrounding her acts resulted from her being a part of an Indian society which had not yet progressed as much as its Western counterpart. Her modeling, her dance or her marriage to actor Kabir Bedi were enumerated in bold headlines in tabloids during that age. However glamour was not the predominant factor in this outstanding dancer’s life. It was rather a hidden pain that drove her to acts of desperation. It was only after her tragic death that India truly understood the value of a dancer like Protima Bedi.
Protima Bedi was born on October 12, 1948 in a family of four children. She was the second child and had two sisters and one brother as siblings. Though Protima Bedi was born in Delhi, the Bedi family soon shifted base to Goa when Protima was only 5 years of age. Her father Laxmichand Gupta was a trader who had married out of his own caste. Therefore, he had to constantly flee from one place to another in fear of criticism. It was after four years of stay in Goa that the Bedi family landed in Bombay. However, Protima Bedi did not get to enjoy her stay in the financial capital as she was sent off to stay with her aunt in Karnal. It was in the Karnal district that Protima Bedi attended her initial years of school, consequently shifting to Panchgani, where she spent much of her schooling years at a girls boarding school named Kimmins High School. Protima Bedi returned to Bombay to attend St Xavier’s College for her graduation degree.
It was right after she completed college that Protima Bedi started out as a model in Bombay. With her kind of looks, it was not difficult for Protima Bedi to win the attention of the media. Hair colored in golden streaks, halter neck dresses and body-hugging trousers was what people normally got to see Protima Bedi in during her modeling years. It was by the early 1970s that the girl from Delhi had firmly made a place for herself among the top models of that era, regardless of the fact that she was already married to Kabir Bedi during this time. But it was probably her advertising campaign for the Cineblitz magazine that Protima Bedi will best be remembered for. Her streaking (running nude in a public area) act in Juhu Beach in Bombay for the launch of the Cineblitz magazine in the year 1974 raised many an eyebrow, only helping to open the doors of controversy in her life.
However, in the following year, 26 years old then, Protima Bedi seemed to have sobered down a bit, with dance becoming the most important part of her life then. It was an Odissi dance recital which Protima Bedi witnessed accidentally, during this time that inspired her to take up the dance form as a career and changed the course of her life completely. Protima Bedi soon enrolled as a student of eminent Odissi dancer Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra dedicating more than half of her day in learning the nuances of Odissi dance. She got rid of her modern image and started participating in regular Odissi stage performances, later also opening her own dance school.
Classical dance was one of the most important parts of Protima Bedi’s life. Ever since she came into contact with the Odissi dance form in 1975, Protima Bedi had dedicated her life to it. To perfect her dance further, she started studying abhinaya from Guru Kalanidhi Narayan of Madras. Thereafter, there was no looking back for this ace dancer. Protima started giving performances all over the country. Soon after mastering the art, Protima Bedi set up a dance school of her own inside the premises of the Prithvi Theatre in Bombay, which later became the Odissi Dance Centre. But her most important contribution to the field of classical Indian dance was with the establishment of ‘Nrityagram’, a dance institute, designed on the lines of a gurukul, near Bangalore.
Nrityagram was India’s first dance village where students could learn the classical forms of Indian dance for free. Apart from the seven classical dance forms, the school also taught two martial arts forms, Chhau and Kalaripayattu. Nrityagram soon acquired national and international recognition and it was after some years that Protima Bedi decided to build a tourist resort at the spot to ensure the flow of funds within Nrityagram. Protima Bedi even erected a temple in honor of her guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, her first inspiration to take up Odissi dance as a career. The temple stands erect even today at the site near Bangalore and just like before thousands of people from all over the world assemble in Nrityagram to celebrate the Vasanta Habba dance festival held since 1994.
Protima Bedi’s personal life was nothing less than colorful. It is true that she was out of the ordinary and her personal choices only helped to prove that fact. Protima Bedi was flamboyant by nature and never felt shy of flaunting her relationships. Reports claim that she dated a number of men ranging from Pandit Jasraj to Vijaypath Singhania, Vasant Sathe to Jacques Lebel, Mario Kropf, Rajni Patel and Rom Whitaker, before finally tying the knot to internationally acclaimed actor Kabir Bedi. Her relationship with Kabir Bedi, which started soon after her college years, was a matter of gossip in various circles. Reports claim that Protima Bedi was introduced to Kabir Bedi by mutual friend Nina Gupta. She found Kabir Bedi so “fabulous” that Protima Bedi decided to move out with him within months after they met at Nina Gupta’s party. She was in a live-in relationship with Kabir Bedi before marriage, an act that was considered taboo in the 1960s Bombay society. Protima Bedi and Kabir Bedi got married in 1969, when she was at the peak of her modeling career. The couple had two children, Pooja Bedi and Siddharth Bedi.
Last Days & Death:
The last years of Protima Bedi’s life were difficult, troublesome and pathetic. Her separation from Kabir Bedi in 1978 had already taken away the flamboyance that Protima Bedi was characterized with. Another turning point in Protima’s life came when her son, Siddharth Bedi, who was struck with schizophrenia, committed suicide. The suicide of her son came as a blow to her and in the early 1998; Protima retired from public life and changed her name from Protima Bedi to Protima Gauri. She started traveling in the Himalayan region and stated that she had given up herself to the Himalayas. The same year, in August, Protima Gauri set off on her pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar and it was there that she disappeared after the Malpa landslide. Her remains and belongings were later recovered in Malpa, a village along the Indo-Tibet border. Her autobiography, Timepass, based on her journals and letters, collated and published by her daughter, Pooja Bedi in 2000, recounts how Protima Bedi had developed a distaste towards life after the death of her son Siddharth.
- 1948: Protima Bedi was born on October 12 in Delhi.
- 1957: Started her schooling in Panchgani.
- 1965: Came to Bombay for college at St Xavier’s.
- 1968: Started modeling.
- 1969: Married Kabir Bedi.
- 1974: Infamous streaking for Cineblitz.
- 1975: Her introduction to Odissi dance.
- 1978: Separated from Kabir Bedi.
- 1990: Established Nrityagram on May 11.
- 1997: Her son Siddharth died, after which she eventually retired from public life.
- 1998: Was found dead in Pithoragarh on August 18.