Pooja Bedi has chosen to live a life differently and be a trailblazer in her own light. “I march to the beat of my own drum,” she says. The actor-host who turns 52 today, is in a happy space.
Born to icons Kabir Bedi and Protima Bedi, Pooja calls herself a “positive product of that incredible liberal, bohemian, firebrand upbringing.” Her father’s acting career spreads across industries globally. At 70, he tied the knot for a fourth time with Parveen Dosanjh despite an age gap of 30 years. Her mother was a model-turned-Odissi exponent.
“To love deeply, to question limiting conventions, to stand up for what is right, to empower and fight for the rights of others, and to always maintain a sense of humour, especially at myself have been some key highlights (of my upbringing),” she said.
Taking a cue, one can recall how Pooja became a national sensation when she got associated with a condom campaign along with model Marc Robinson. Directed by Alyque Padamsee, the ad was shot in Goa and showed Pooja under a shower. It eventually got banned on Doordarshan, but it opened a conversation around the use of condoms to spread AIDS awareness in India.
Looking back at becoming part of something so revolutionary, Pooja said, “It was great to be a fire-starter. The campaign was touted as the beginning of the sexual revolution in India by British tabloids. It won many awards and made advertising history. It was great to have been a trailblazer because of it.”
Further expressing happiness that the youth of today are much more comfortable about their sexual desires, be it live-in-relationships, inter-caste marriages or LGBTQ choices, she went on to “thank heavens that people today are so open about their sexuality.”
The condom endorsement got her Bollywood offers too. Pooja Bedi signed her first film Vishkanya in the same year, 1991. She eventually, also landed her memorable appearance in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992), where she played the love interest of Aamir Khan’s Sanju. Her flying-dress sequence in “Pehla Nasha” ended up getting enlisted as an iconic shot in Bollywood. “That flying red dress in Pehla Nasha song has immortalised me. It was so much fun shooting the film. It was the best thing that ever happened to my public image and to keep me in everyone’s memory,” she reminisces. Though she confessed that she laughs at her movie performances today. “And my kids laugh even harder,” she added.
Pooja entered showbiz at the age of 18, met her ex-husband Farhan Furniturewala at 20, and got married when she was 24. “In that era, once an actress was married, it was the end of her career.” But not for her. Post her divorce in 2003, she did TV reality shows like Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, Nach Baliye, Khatron Ke Khiladi, Maa Exchange and Bigg Boss 5. She also hosted the talk show Just Pooja on Zoom channel.
And amid all of this, she also brought up two kids – Alaya and Omar. For Pooja, the most difficult part as a single mother was “being the solo dominant parent and having to multitask work, home, kids, friends, perhaps a new relationship, playing both good cop and bad cop, and dealing with the inevitable guilt of any time spent away from them.”
According to her, she focussed on remaining friends with her former husband so that her kids retain a healthy bond with him, “Your divorce does not affect their relationship with either parent.” Pooja believed that no child should be denied that love.
Now that her daughter Alaya F is an actor herself, does she feel protective? Alaya made her Bollywood debut with Jawaani Jaaneman opposite Saif Ali Khan in 2020. Pooja shared that she is a protective mother, but not possessive. “My role as a mother is to guide them and not control them. I believe in giving both Alaya and Omar the space and freedom to make their own choices and nurture their individuality.”
Pooja got engaged to businessman Maneck Contractor in 2019. Sharing how he brought “love, stability, fun, adventure and kindness into all our lives”, she revealed that all these years, her primary focus has been her kids liking and respecting the men who wish to enter her life, and vice-versa. “Only then do I allow them into our space,” she said. “I’ve had multiple relationships post my divorce in 2003 and each has been exactly what was needed for that point in my life. Maneck has been an incredible human being and someone who I can envision spending the rest of my life with. We absolutely love and adore him.”
Pooja, who currently resides in Goa, might come across as a fashionista in the Mumbai circuits, but she claims to lead an easy life back home. “In Rome, do as the Romans do! You should see me here in Goa. I’m in chappal with flouncy clothes and virtually no make up. It’s a delight to dress up and be in another avatar in Mumbai,” she said with a smile.
Pooja Bedi turned an entrepreneur few years back. Today, she is the founder of a wellness marketplace Happy Soul and partner of Magicians of Wellness (India) LLP.
“I thank my parents and life for shaping me to be the person I am today and thank the universe for all the opportunities and guidance it sent my way,” she signs off.
Happy birthday, Pooja Bedi!