Thursday, February 12, 2009


Vinita Dawra Nangia
(First published in TOI, April 29, 2007)

Shilpa Shetty is a metaphor for foxy celebrities who manipulate social opportunities to gain fame and fortune.Witness the kiss with Richard Gere...

How many of you really believe wide-eyed Shilpa Shetty had no clue what would ensue after that very delectable onstage kiss shared with Richard Gere? Did she have no idea of what was coming when Richard swung her into a clinch which is the stuff female dreams are made of? Not likely.
Paris Hilton’s “leaked” video sex tapes; wardrobe malfunctions ranging from Janet Jackson to Carol Gracias; Mika’s smooch for Rakhi Sawant, and now the Richard-Shilpa kiss – all incidents announce the arrival of the new PR Gods of the 21st century. These peripheral celebrities have perfected the art of keeping the arc lights focused on themselves. Not just that, after creating controversial situations and dropping a timely hint to media, they are also perfect at adroitly stepping away and pretending innocence when hell breaks loose – much as it was meant to!
These are the people who engineer their own future by playing with destiny, but who can also convince the world that they are mere playthings in the hands of destiny! They live a dangerously tantalising life – living on the edge in a new era of media, creating a willing suspension of disbelief.
Shilpa is just a metaphor for being there and yet not there, for having your cake and eating it too. It’s an era of disaggregated identities, you are a part of a process but you are also the one who initiated that process! You step away and pretend it never happened; it’s just a figment of the media’s imagination! In the bargain you become victim as well as attacker; creator as well as the creation! So then what happens? The turn your life takes after that can only be called “conditioned destiny” and the response is far more incisive and effective than a paid PR plan! This is premeditated social behaviour that creates Gods out of mortals.
Consider this. First Celebrity Big Brother helps shoot Shilpa to international celebrity status with well-timed hints and interviews to media from her mom and sister on how Shilpa is being missed at home and how she is bearing up to the pressure of racial discrimination. In the blink of an eye, you find the girl-from-nowhere at the centre of a huge racial controversy spanning nations. Next she is being presented to the Queen and riding high on the popularity index. In the middle of it all, Shilpa plays God -- putting on an innocent act, magnanimously forgiving Jade Goody all her racial taunts and insults!
Then, just as the brouhaha around her threatens to settle down, Shilpa finds herself at the centre of yet another storm that stirs up media in India as well as abroad because of the involvement of a Hollywood star. Once again, Shilpa steps forward as the generous protector and benefactor “Poor guy! For such a trivial issue! How will it look in the international press? … Richard was just trying to entertain an unresponsive audience."
Of course she glosses over her own “teasing” of Richard Gere at lunch the same day about his “dance step from Shall We Dance. She hurries to clarify, “it was nothing but a joke and not pre-planned at all.” When reminded about a similar uproar when Padmini Kolhapure kissed Prince Charles many years ago, Shilpa said, "That was on the lips. This was on the cheek, for crying out loud!” Much like Bill Clinton’s protest that he never actually had sex with Lewinsky!

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