Have you heard that story about Richard Gere? No, not the gerbil hoax that tainted Dr. T when I was a kid. But the one about Gere smooching Bollywood babe Shilpa Shetty at an AIDS awareness event in New Delhi last month.
As my friend Manya Brachear points out on her blog for the Chicago Tribune, Gere’s actions “enraged some Hindus who thought the public display violated laws of public obscenity.”
If apprehended, Gere can be sent to jail for up to three months, fined or both. He is not in India now but can be held if he visits the country again, which he does for at least three weeks each year to study Tibetan Buddhism under the tutelage of the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in northern India. He is also involved with AIDS prevention groups there.
Daniel Gold, a professor of South Asian religions at Cornell University, said exceptions are traditionally made for Bollywood stars and Westerners who do not abide by Hindu laws.“In general public displays of affection are not part of Indian traditional culture and most people are rather restrained about that,” Gold said. “The world of Bollywood stars is a whole other world. They have inter-caste marriages, inter-religious marriages. People accept it. But itâs nothing that they would do.”
But Vasudha Narayanan, a professor of religion at the University of Florida, said it wasnât until recently that kissing was considered acceptable by censors, no matter how sexually suggestive an actorâs gestures might be.
“As a general rule of the thumb it would be expected that any visitor to the country should follow the norms and customs of that place and not do anything that would be knee-jerk offensive,” she said.
“Many people are against these types of lawsuits saying it depicts India in a very negative light and India is in many ways an extraordinarily progressive country,” she added. “But like any other place particularly so in India, itâs a land of extremes.”
According to Britian’s gossip magazine Now, Shetty thinks the whole scandal is ridiculous:
“Can you believe it? It’s so, so stupid,” Shilpa, 31, exclaims. “The lunatic fringe went ballistic over nothing.
“Richard was bending me backwards and he kissed me on the cheek. But the news stations were rewinding and replaying the same shot over and over again on primetime TV. They didn’t talk about the HIV problem that faces this country.
“I was furious when I saw people burning effigies of Richard. That sort of behaviour is not representative of my country.”