Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Gere-Shilpa on-stage kissing evokes protests

New Delhi, Richard Gere's on-stage kissing and hugging of Bollywood actor Shilpa Shetty during an AIDS awareness function here triggered a plethora of protests in several towns Monday against the "obscene" act, with some people even burning effigies of the Hollywood star.

The function, organised Sunday evening at the Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar here, saw Gere, Shilpa and brawny Bollywood actor Sunny Deol participating in the programme to raise AIDS awareness among the trucker community.

While celebrating the 'Seena Taan Ke' event to highlight the contribution of truckers and the importance of safe sex practices, Gere, overwhelmed by Shilpa's appreciation, held her hand and kissed it. He later hugged her tightly, bent over her and planted several kisses on her cheeks in full public view.

A giggly and embarrassed Shilpa said: "Yeh thoda zyada ho gaya tha (This was a little too much)."

The kissing episode has raised the hackles of several conservative groups, with reports of protests coming in from Kanpur, Varanasi (both in Uttar Pradesh) and Indore (Madhya Pradesh) and Jaipur.

"This is an intolerable and obscene act. It is against the values, culture and traditions of the nation. Gere must apologise," said a protester at Indore.

"This act has hurt the sentiments of people. This should not have happened publicly," said another protester. People came out on the streets in hundreds to protest and burned the effigies of Gere. They are demanding that he apologise to Shilpa and the country.

In the HIV-AIDS programme, organised by the Transport Corporation of India (TCI) Foundation, the social arm of Group Transport Corporation of India and the Hero Project, Shilpa had lavished praise on Gere just before the kissing episode took place.

"I thank Gere that he took out time to visit India. It is appreciable to see how intensely he feels for this issue. And we all must recognise his efforts and give our contribution in the best possible way, for this great cause," she said, addressing the crowds.

Shilpa had made international headlines a few months ago when British TV star Jade Goody hurled racist abuses at her on the reality show "Celebrity Big Brother".

Dale Bhagwagar, spokesperson and publicist to Shilpa, said the media should concentrate on the cause of AIDS awareness rather than make an issue out of Richard Gere's kisses.

Gere has been associated with the Heroes project - a three-year national initiative by him and Parmeshwar Godrej - that aims at reducing the stigma about HIV/AIDS by educating people and advocating behavioural change.

According to the TCI foundation, 40 percent of the country's five million truck drivers are vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.

Around 4,000 truck drivers were also part of the 'Seena Taan Ke' programme.

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