Review: Flashback (My Life and Times in Bollywood and Beyond) by Bob Christo

bob christo, bollywood, flashback, book review, my life and times in bollywood and beyond
Foreign actors in Indian movies always fascinated me - the likes of Tom Alter, Gavin Packard and Bob Christo. What would make them come to India to work in a movie? So when I saw Bob's Flashback on Amazon there was no way I couldn't read it. To many of us Bob (Robert John Christo) was only a baddie who was brawny, well-built and knew some Hindi to pull off his dialogues and then disappeared somewhere never to be seen again. Bob passed away in 2011. You may read Beth Loves Bollywood for more on Bob's role in Indian films.

He had taken to meditation during his later years and quotes Stephen Levine, "'When your fear touches someone's pain it becomes pity, when your love touches someone's pain it becomes compassion'". Bob led a life full of adventures and mis-adventures. He was a civil engineer from Australia, had worked for the military in Vietnam, regularly hip-hopping between Philippines and Hong-Kong and Vietnam at that time. His charismatic personality obviously got him attention from girls and he had numerous liaisons. And he writes honestly about all of it. He doesn't pretend to be faithful to his partners. He was a black belt in Goju-Kai Japanese karate and was taught by Oshiro, who had at some point taught Bruce Lee. He describes the shooting for Apocalypse Now and how actual dead bodies were to be used for a war scene until, probably Coppola, is disgusted by the depravity of it and the bodies are sent back to a morgue. He was also a witness to one of his friends chopping off his own left hand with an axe to prevent poison, from a snake bite, from spreading to the rest of his body.

He ends up on Zimbabwe to take part in a military operation against the armed locals in Rhodesia, later taking off for South Africa. He ends up being a part of an advertisement for Lion Lager beer which wins the Best Commercial Worldwide in Cannes. He befriends Behrooz Nejad (spelled as 'Berooz' by Bob), who was was with the elite guards of the Shah of Iran but left Iran later as Ayatollah Khomeini was about to come to power and life could have become difficult for him there. This is where the story gets interesting. Bob mentions that Behrooz was a Taekwondo 5th dan and Kung Fu 7th dan, and also had a shooting range in his martial arts training centre. On, David writes of how Behrooz was in the U.S. and later was convicted of a murder in U.A.E. An Observer report of February, 1985 mentions the same. There is some discussion on Martial Arts Planet as well. Bob describes how he and Behrooz beat down a whole football team in a bar brawl. They even transport a huge stash of money for Paul Getty II. He then heads to Oman for a construction job, while carrying a handgun wrapped inside aluminum foil to evade detection. While waiting for his work visa he travels to Bombay and meets with Parveen Babi, and says on her face "you're not Parveen Babi", making her laugh who tells him that the lady in front of her is Parveen Babi without makeup.

Bob has lot of stories to talk about from Bollywood - Sanjay Khan being shot at because of a drunken brawl near his home with fellow actors involving Shatrughan Sinha, hunting with Sanjay Khan and Raj Kapoor, shooting in Rajasthan with Border Security Forces, massaging Zeenat Aman often at the request of Sanjay Khan, holidaying in Goa with Russi Modi, and acting with Kamal Hasan, Rajnikanth, N.T. Rama Rao, Mohanlal, Mammootty, Amitabh Bachchan and many others.

Bob's wasn't a one-dimensional life. He could even play guitar, clarinet, piano and was a good dancer. He had learnt many languages as well. However, the book isn't only about his hubris and braggadocio. He mentions how during the shooting of Geraftaar he was hit in his left eye during a fight scene and he wasn't even compensated by the producer. He was close to Sanjay Khan, but due to his various injuries in his macho life he started limping in his old age - and he overheard Sanjay Khan talking of is limp and how that would impact the image of his hotel in Banaglore because Bob was the director of health and fitnes - he quit immediately and took a flat in Bangalore. Towards the end, Bob becomes melancholic and one can feel the sadness in his words which become heavier. He describes his back problems, writes about his irregular heartbeat - "even if I don't survive, it was OK with me, I couldn't go on living forever". He later took up work for some international school which wanted to come to India. He rues about working in old age, "most of my life I've been working...and now I have to earn again!". He signs off by "as I look back on my life, I feel blessed. There were happy times and sad times like in every life, but it was a life fully lived".

A life lived fully and unabashedly, which makes the book a light but exciting read. However, some gaps do exist - he never joined the construction firm in Oman - what happened to it? Did they agree so easily for him to not come?; what happened to Kisa in Hong Kong?; his child in Philippines? Nonetheless, it does make for a fast paced read.


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