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.
Contributed by Sangita Shresthova