NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Richard Gere’s repeated kisses on the cheeks of Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty in an event to promote AIDS awareness sparked protests in India on Monday with demonstrators burning effigies of the actors.
Footage of the Hollywood star sweeping Shetty backwards in a dramatic embrace at the Sunday night event in New Delhi was repeatedly aired on news channels on Monday.
Many saw the act as an outrage against Shetty’s modesty and Indian culture, though Shetty herself angrily dismissed the protests as an “over-reaction” that made India look silly.
Groups of men burned and kicked effigies of the actors in protests across India, including in the northern Indian cities of New Delhi, Kanpur, Meerut and Varanasi as well as in the central city of Indore.
Some called for the actors’ deaths. Others wanted public apologies.
But Shetty, the winner of the “Celebrity Big Brother” reality TV show in Britain this year, said the reaction to the kiss made India look “regressive”.
“I admit it went a little overboard but that was not the intention,” she said to a crowd of journalists and protesters that had besieged her film set in Mumbai on Monday evening.
“He did not do anything obscene,” she said of Gere, adding that they had since spoken on the phone. “He apologized to me and told me to tell the media that he apologized.”
She said Gere was only re-enacting his moves from the film “Shall We Dance” to entertain the audience and communicate in a Bollywood style as he did not speak Hindi.
The clinch between the two stars had originally gone down well when it happened onstage at an event on Sunday night to encourage truckers — seen as a high-risk group in India’s fight against AIDS — to wear condoms during sex.
They whooped with delight and whistled loudly as Gere swooped down on a visibly delighted Shetty to kiss her on her hand and a number of times on one side of her face.
“No condom, no sex,” an ebullient 58-year-old Gere shouted in Hindi to thousands of truck drivers who roared his words back in unison at a dusty fairground in New Delhi.
Indian authorities have been focusing on high-risk groups such as truckers, who have helped spread the virus across the country as many of them have sex with prostitutes during their journeys and infect their wives back home.
Additional reporting by Onkar Pandey and Krittivas Mukherjee