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Supporting Bollywood's 'ladli' Shilpa....

By: Fuad Omar, IndiaFM
Thursday, January 18, 2007
I am very concerned about the negative press in India about Shilpa's time in the Celebrity Big Brother House and wish to clarify some facts in hope that some media will choose to give her experience the credit it deserves.

Big Brother is a huge show here. It spawned Celebrity big Brother which proved to be extremely popular. The celebrities in the series have been questionable but enjoyed some glory in their hey-day (Brigitte Nielson, Dennis Rodman, Jackie Stallone), but Shilpa's participation in the show has ensured a real celebrity was part of the experience for the first time. Shilpa is adored by her overseas fans and live shows, appearances and the success of her films proves this, so the announcement that Shilpa Shetty would be in Celebrity Big Brother was huge. The other most popular celebrities with her in the house are Dirk Benedict (from the A-Team) and Jermaine Jackson (of the Jackson 5). Both have been impressed with Shilpa and formed a bond with her.

The non-celebrities in the house Jade (a former Big Brother contestant), Jackiey (Jade's mum), Jack (Jade's boyfriend) and Danielle (a disgraced former Miss Great Britain who was stripped of her title) have not been able to bond with anyone but each other and resorted to intimidating tactics and bullying Shilpa. Jermaine and Dirk have spoken up for her, as have journalist Carole Malone and singer Ian Watkins, and Jermaine went as far as telling Big Brother: "I can't help but note that she is the only woman of colour in the house and she is being treated differently," highlighting that whereas a class divide existed in the house previously, a racial divide was now bubbling.

What disturbs me the most is the way the Indian press are making fun of and negatively reporting Shilpa's actions which have highlighted Indians to the British public, made overseas Asians proud and brought attention to the Indian film industry from the casual British viewer as Bollywood DVD rentals have increased threefold since Shilpa entered the Big Brother house. She has said positive things about India and Bollywood and Dirk even contemplated what a Bollywood film with him and her would be like.

Shilpa has done Asians proud by being in the Big Brother House. She has been dignity personified, spoke highly of India, her family, her religion and shown nothing less than exemplary values and was described as 'culturally balanced' by her housemates. She has recently been the victim of bullying in the house by people who make fun of her accent, Indian food and more. The British public and press have come out to support Shilpa with many pro-Shilpa campaigns as well as the online community which is why it is a shame the Indian press are not mirroring this pride.

Shilpa has brought Indian values and culture to a British reality show and wowed the public and press through being herself. She did not break into a song n dance routine (except when she became the first ever Indian actress to be part of a Jackson Five tribute group with one of the original Jacksons) nor did she perform any daredevil stunts like in her films, she simply was herself and talked about her family, her work, her country and the film industry. She misses her family and their pictures are always up. She has taken time to pray regularly in the house, practice (and teach others) yoga, taught messages from the Gita and taught small cultural respectful mannerisms such as remaining polite to elders no matter what, calling them 'Uncle' due to seniority, giving up her bed for others, cooking food for them with an Indian twist and so much more. The Asians overseas are proud of her for who she is and for how much she has highlighted our culture. Today if you walk on the streets on London, she dominates front pages and the average man on the street knows who she is. They do not know who Bollywood stalwarts Shah Rukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan are but they know who Shilpa Shetty is and describe her as very endearing and they want to know more about her and her culture because it has retained a respect forgotten in modern times.

Shilpa has been the victim of bullying with racial undertones (her accent was mimicked, she was referred to as 'the Indian', asked whether she lived in a 'shack', discussions included how Indians eat with their hands and a joke was made about throwing things in 'Shilpa's curry' - not because she was making curry but because it's an Indian dish). The public here have thronged to her support with Ofcom revealing it has now received over 4500 complaints about her treatment in the house and one of the housemates (Jade) who was bullying her has been ceremoniously dumped today as a spokesperson for a anti-bullying charity given she has been bullying someone herself. Jermaine repeats how uncomfortable he is with what is happening in the house every day, Carole Malone found Jackiey's way with Shilpa "insulting" and Ian Watkins broke down saying what he was seeing reminded him of how he was bullied at school.

So why are the Indian press not supporting her? Our culture, our heritage, our lives, our country and one of our celebrities who is making India proud is being ridiculed by a few people on national television and we cannot even unite to speak out about it in our own country?

Dirk Benedict told Shilpa yesterday that when she leaves the BB house it would remain with her as her experience would be akin to psychological scarring. Will the scars get deeper when she returns to the very country she's been praising only to find they've been speaking against her instead of supporting her?

I hope for India's sake, this does not happen.

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