We’ve all heard about the uproar that American actor Richard Gere caused last month in India when he kissed Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty at an AIDS awareness event. I entirely agree that the Indians who were burning Gere in effigy were overreacting and that putting out a warrant for his arrest is ridiculous.
The whole incident is indicative of how India is undergoing its own sexual revolution right now, just as the United States did in the 1960s and 1970s. (Remember, there was once a time in the United States when TV shows depicted husband and wife sleeping in separate beds.) The norms of Indian society are rapidly changing, and Indians are divided between those who are moving with the times and those who hold steadfast to tradition. The Indians at the AIDS awareness event seemed to be laughing at the kissing episode. They didn’t seem to have a problem with it. On the other hand, the more conservative elements in society were infuriated. Gere had it right when he said on The Daily Show:
“There is a very small right-wing, very conservative political party in India and they are the moral police in India … they do this kind of thing quite often.”
And speaking of right-wing conservatives, when I saw the Gere-Shetty kissing incident, I couldn’t help thinking of the “massage” that U.S. President George W. Bush’s gave German Chancellor Angela Merkel last summer at the G8 conference. Just like Merkel, Shetty was taken by surprise—she had a startled expression on her face and she lost her balance. Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that boorish frat-boy antics, whether from Bush, Gere or any other man, don’t go over very well.