Bollywood is the home of the burgeoning film industry in India. Not to be confused with Hollywood, Bollywood develops its own movies, with actors and actresses of their own. The standards of decency and morality are also vastly different. This fact seems to have been lost on Richard Gere when he publicly kissed Bollywood phenom Shilpa Shetty. He kissed her on each cheek. Shilpa smiled, but appeared visibly uncomfortable with the American actor’s behavior. Then Gere leaned her back in his arms, kissing her again on the cheek.
Gere smiled, Shetty seemed to feign a smile. It looked as if she realized Gere had crossed a line. Gere, appeared oblivious. In light of the traditions, customs, and laws that govern India, Gere looked like a pig. He looked like a sexist, self-centered man with total disregard for a culture unlike his own.
It’s not unusual to look to Hollywood and find actors and actresses who believe they live above U.S. laws. Money wins a multitude of friends. Money can buy testimony and reinforce alibis. Fame can influence jurors. Examples from Hollywood’s past include: O.J. Simpson, Robert Conrad, and Michael Jackson. There were no convictions in these cases, which appeared, from outside the court to be a certain loss for the star.
In the U.S., we have become desensitized to the shenanigans of Hollywood Stars. In Bollywood, they have not. There are standards of decency and morality that the public and the industry expect to be upheld. The fine for public indecency charges facing Gere and Shetty hold up to 3 months in prison, a fine, or both. The outcome of this may set the standard by which Bollywood behaves now and in the future.
Gere was in India assisting in Shetty’s AID’s awareness campaign. A practicing Buddhist, Gere is no stranger to the Indian culture. He also works, quite often, on a mission for Tibetan freedom. He also spends time with the Dali Lama and other Buddhist teachers when in the country. When, and if, he returns to the country he will be arrested on public obscenity charges. Shetty and Gere have been ordered to appear in Court on May 5.
Shetty has spoken out, saying the laws, court orders, and hullabaloo associated with the incident make India look regressive. She defends Gere, saying that because he cannot speak Hindi, he was re-enacting a scene from one of his movies to entertain the audience. Right after the incident, however, Shetty is reported as having said, “This is a bit too much.” Although she is defending Gere, she seems to have known he stepped over the line and appeared embarrassed by the incident.
Shetty is currently on a religious pilgrimage.
Protesters have burned large, cardboard likenesses of the American actor. There are protests, and a lawyer filed the complaint leading to the arrest. After reviewing the tapes, Judge Dinesh Gupta issued an order for Gere’s arrest and demanded Shetty also appear in court. According to Chinese reporters, such cases are common among publicity seekers in Bollywood. The Chinese paper also reported that the AID’s event organizer, Parmeshwar Godreji, claims the pursuit of this matter is a distraction from important, and more pressing issues.
While Godreji defends the actors misunderstanding of Indian culture, others continue to profane him and curse him in the streets. Ironically, even though the act was considered obscene, the photograph appeared on the front pages of many major newspapers.
Gere, nor his publicist have made public comment regarding the incident.
Regardless of individual opinion about the obscenity law and the “innocent kiss,” it seems Gere made the mistake of taking the culture and traditional beliefs of another country for granted, imposing his ideas into the situation a foreign country.
Dolnick, Sam. “Protesters burn effigies of Richard Gere after he kisses Bollywood actress,” Associated Press, April 16, 2007.