"A man-eating tiger and a fierce looking man face each other. As the tension mounts, a young blonde woman rides in on a horse. Frightened by the sight of a feline beast, her horse rears. The young woman falls off landing right in between the man and the tiger. Compelled by the heightened urgency of the situation, the man draws his dagger as he and the tiger run towards each other, passing each other as they leap into the air. As they land, the tiger collapses and the young woman breathes a sigh of relief. The warrior, who is none other than the legendary Sandokan, killed the tiger in mid-air. Before he escapes into the forest, Sandokan addresses arriving British soldiers and the young woman to proclaim: “I am Sandokan, a prince among my people. I turned pirate to take back from the English what they had taken from me.” He then turns and disappears avoiding capture, thus, ending of a key scene from the Sandokan Italian RAI TV serial, based on Emilio Salgari’s novel from 1896.
The plot of the novel revolves around the adventures of Sandokan - a Bornean man who lost his status, home and family to British colonialists. Embittered by his experience, Sandokan sets up camp at the island of Mompracem. From there he leads a gang of pirates under the flag of the Tiger. Together they destabilize the colonialists’ authority through robbery and violence. Steeped in the colonial period in which it was written, Salgari’s novel pitted indigenous populations against the colonial powers in ways that highlighted the evils of imperialism and celebrated resistance. As Maria Bianca Gerlich (1998, 34) observes, “Sandokan, Mompracem, and the flag of the tiger are allegories in the fight for freedom.”
Though Sandokan was a bestseller when it was first published in 1896, the story continues to be popular and has been adapted into an animated film, a theater production and the already mentioned TV series. Analyzing this enduring popularity, Vittorio Frigerio (2008, 42) notes Sandokan’s popularity far exceeds the popularity of the book’s author: “Indeed, a search of the name ""Emilio Salgari"" on Google gives 98,900 results, whereas...if you try to ""Sandokan"", the figure indicates is 902,000.” Many of these hits include references to Kabir Bedi’s rendition of this fictional hero.
After beginning his career as a model and stage actor in Bombay, India, Bedi rose to international fame after Sandokan. Thinking back on that moment in his career, Bedi observes Sandokan “opened the door to the world” for him. The metaphor is, in fact, a literal description. After Sandokan, Bedi went on pursue an acting career outside India that included a role in the Bold and Beautiful (1987-) soap opera and a villain role in the James Bond film Octopussy (1983). Though Sandokan was only one of his many roles, Kabir Bedi’s name became synonymous with this role for many Czechs and other Europeans for decades to come.
I grew up with this story. Sandokan was a show that I watched with my parents and discussed with my friend. Given my mixed race background, Sandokan was the first story that validated by inter-racial, inter-cultural upbringing. I had the opportunity to meet Kabir Bedi, the actor who potrayed Sandokan, years later when we brought him to Prague as a guest of Prague Bollywood Festival. I think still story still has a strong resonance with several generations of Czechs. It is still well known. I still believe Sandokan could be used to rethink intercultural dialogues and reframe migration in the Czech Republic. It touches upon oppression, injustice, the fight for freedom and is relevant because it appeals to people who may otherwise be opposed to efforts to rethink their position on migration and acceptance of other cultures. I have shared this story with others (other czechs) and they have generally responded very positively.
Sandokan, Post-Colonial, Tiger, Pirates