The iconic Hollywood actress Gina Lollobrigida (Black Eagle, Beat The Devil, Trapeze, Come September, Buona Sera Mrs. Campbell), who passed away January 16, had three connections with India, two of which are mentioned by Kabir Bedi in his heartfelt autobiography, Stories I Must Tell, published by Westland Books.
The first is her invitation to Kabir Bedi after his pathbreaking TV serial, Sandokan, for dinner at her home in Rome (this story is from Page 114 onwards). Kabir was accompanied by his girlfriend, then top-actress Parveen Babi. The book narrates the saga of how momentous it was to be invited by the top diva then for a meal, which would conclude at a high-end restaurant after an initial gathering at her exquisite villa. Gina, he also notes, “loved all things Asian.”
Kabir graphically tells of how she studiedly ignored Parveen, did a dance with him and then was quite insulting to the Indian actress by asking her, “And you, my dear. What are you doing here? Following the star?”
The mercurial Indian actress gave a sharp retort and shortly told Kabir that she was leaving, and a helpless new global sensation had to choose and take Gina’s leave without having dinner.
The second connection is mentioned within the text: it talks of an ‘India Room’ in her villa. The then-Air India manager, Cecil De Mello, who was the one who conveyed Gina’s invitation to Kabir, declared to him that “It’s the best advertisement for India”. The Italian-born European and Hollywood actress and photojournalist had wanted to show the room to Kabir after dinner, for which the actor never stayed!
The third connection was perhaps the most talked-about: she was to do the role of Countess Rasmussen in the first Indo-American co-production, Krishna Shah’s Shalimar (1978), which was finally done by Sylvia Miles. Gina had even flown down to Mumbai and a picture with her posing hand-in-hand with Dharmendra and Zeenat Aman had made a splash then. Unlike Parveen, Zeenat and Gina reportedly got along very well, but the media then made much of an issue of their “rivalry” (even before the film went on floors!). Today, no one knows the true reason why Gina exited Shalimar.