Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty has been formally cleared of obscenity charges dating from when Hollywood star Richard Gere publicly kissed her on the cheek at an AIDS awareness event 15 years ago. The incident had triggered a local firestorm at the time, with Hindu right-wing groups burning effigies of both the celebrities to protest the perceived insult to Indian values.
A judge soon afterwards issued arrest warrants, with both accused of various counts of obscenity and indecency.
The charges against Richard Gere were quickly shelved, allowing the actor, a Buddhist celebrity, to return to India in 2010 for a meeting with Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
However, the case against Shilpa Shetty languished in India’s slow-moving legal system for more than a decade until it was finally discharged in Mumbai last week.
In a court order made public today, a judge said the charges against the actress were “groundless” and that she had been subject to an unwanted amorous advance from the Hollywood A-lister. “It seems that… Shilpa Shetty is the victim of (the) alleged act of accused No. 1 (Richard Gere),” the order said.
Footage of the 2007 incident shows Gere kissing Shetty on the hand, before tightly hugging her and planting repeated kisses on her cheek, while both were onstage.
Shilpa Shetty’s lawyer said the case rested entirely on the fact that “she did not protest when she was kissed by the co-accused”. “This by no stretch of imagination makes her a conspirator or perpetrator of any crime,” the lawyer added.
Shilpa Shetty, 46, has not yet issued a public statement in response to the court order. In 2007, she had defended Richard Gere’s actions and blamed India’s “lunatic fringe” for the uproar.
The Hollywood actor later apologised for his exuberant display, apparently an attempt to demonstrate that kissing was a safe activity that did not spread AIDS.
Shilpa Shetty is perhaps best known outside India for her appearance on the British reality TV show Celebrity Big Brother in 2007. The series was engulfed by scandal after she was allegedly subjected to racist bullying by another contestant who is no more, Jade Cerisa Lorraine Goody, an English reality show personality, and other roommates.