BRITAIN: Shetty wins but British media look away

Bollywood's win may have helped save Britain's multicultural misunderstanding, says experts

Times of India
Monday, January 29, 2007

By Rashmee Roshan Lal

London --- Shilpa Shetty emerged a winner from 26 days of incarceration in the Celebrity Big Brother house in south-east England, with an alleged slew of secret lucrative film, TV, DVD and book offers and oodles of praise for her "dignity and magnanimity", even as embattled broadcaster Channel 4 is seen to have secured the best result possible to repair international damage to multi-cultural Britain's reputation.

In a grand gesture gratefully lapped up by the British press and public, Shetty told her post-win press conference that it was important for the wider world to forgive the housemates accused of racist bullying.

She added, in what many described as an attempt to marry the unlikely parts of Mother Teresa and Marilyn Monroe aka the ambitious starlet Norma Jean Baker: "I really don't want to leave England putting anyone in trouble. This country has given me so much. I just want to thank all of Great Britain for giving me this fantastic opportunity to make my country proud."

Shetty will not get any prize money for winning the show, even though she earned an estimated £ 350,000 for her appearance and stands to make millions of pounds in endorsements and career moves in the UK and Hollywood.

Channel 4 told TOI Shetty's nominated charity would be the chief beneficiary of her win and it would be making an announcement in due course.

Channel 4 said Shetty is no longer in their charge. The actress has allegedly been whisked away to conduct a spill-all-sell-all paid interview with a British newspaper.

In an intellectually challenging attempt to find a representative name and theme for the wave of globalization that makes Britain the home of 1.3 million Indians, Shetty said her experience of the show could be summed up in these three words: "Incredible, overwhelming and...(oh ok, she said to audience prompting) chicken curry rules."

Shetty, who left the show on Sunday night but made it clear she now wanted to play a big part in British public life, defended her alleged chief tormentor Jade Goody and the other two young white women accused of racist behaviour. She insisted, to a small clutch of journalists that Goody, disgraced beauty queen Danielle Lloyd and pop star Jo O'Meara's behaviour suggested: "They are young, but not racist."

Earlier, Shetty had defended Goody with words described by some as "bitchily benevolent" and added she "is aggressive hot-tempered but not racist".

Interestingly, after weeks of wall-to-wall coverage of the race row, Shetty's victory was kept off the front pages of all the quality British press and much of the tabloid media on Monday. Many said the final result of the most controversial Big Brother in the programme's seven-year run might have been expected to be big news with at least one leading British commentator, David Aaronovitch, dryly commenting in The Times , London "Is BB a mirror on the nation? A lot of British Asians seem to think so. The BBC Asian Network calls the BB imbroglio its biggest story ever, with more audience response than Kashmir, the rise of the BNP, the Pakistani nuclear bomb and other ephemera".

In yet another twist to the Big Brother saga, viewing figures for Shetty's win showed that the BBC programme Top Gear won the battle of the ratings, pulling 8.6 million, which was 1.3 million more than watched the actress crowned queen of the Channel 4 show.

On Monday, experts said the British media's obvious attempt to downplay Shetty's victory may have been a knee-jerk reaction to the incontrovertible fact the actress was favourite to win and "only one result could have begun to repair the damage to the reputation of British television and society...and Channel 4 got it".

Some said Shetty, who started the show in early January ranked at odds of 14-1, ranked a complete outsider by bookies and totally unknown to much of Britain, had won because the negative publicity over the race row gave her "victim status". Shetty's victory, said cynics, allowed Britain to show the world it wasn't racist.

In extraordinary scenes reminiscent of a Hindi film, even as Shetty, clad in a bright red, asymmetric, sleeveless chiffon kurta, jeans and gold heels, took the preachy moral high ground in her chat with the press, Lloyd burst into the room to ask for forgiveness. The 23-year-old model, whose ace footballer boyfriend Teddy Shearingham dumped her without her knowing it for her behaviour towards Shetty, told the actress: "I would like to apologise for the words I have said, they were not meant to be racist, I am not racist."

In true Bollywood diva style, an equally tearful Shetty accepted the apology. Shetty went on to say that she was appalled by the footage she saw of the racially-charged bullying in the house and the controversy that engulfed the show in the outside world. She said: "I saw the footage for the first time -- it was ghastly. But now I just want to move forward in life. Jade Goody is not a bad person. She is just young -- people are fallible."

She added: "She is a mother of two and I do not want to see her ruined because of this. It was just a game, we played that game and now it is over."

Shetty, who was greeted soon after she left the house by mother Sunanda, who has already antagonized sections of the British media for her alleged money-grubbing tendencies, also added the devastating final touch to her finest role-play, that of Bollywood's answer to Mother Teresa. She said she would consider meeting up with her alleged tormentors in the outside world.

Experts said it was obvious from Shetty's measured behaviour and dogged decision to forgive her alleged tormentors that she was aware of the significance of the racism row. They added that the actress herself appeared to confirm this by telling the watching world soon after winning "I kind of had an inkling (about the race row) but I'd love to hear about some news."

Late on Sunday, Shetty emoted in a theatrical way on being informed she had won the show with 63 per cent of the public vote. "Oh my God," she screamed, "are you kidding me?" Within minutes of leaving the house, she was mouthing "thank-you" to the crowd gathered outside the Big Brother studios and insisting that "chicken curry rules" must be her motto as a contestant on one of the most controversial and sensitive television programmes in modern time.

Shetty beat the other last remaining contestant, singer Jermaine Jackson, the 52-year-old brother of Michael Jackson, even as bookies confessed they stood to lose money because of an amazing £ 2 million bet on the actor's likelihood to win.

A visibly elated Shetty told the programme presenter she didn't "want to be clichéd" but immediately followed that up with a cliché. The show had been, she said, "truly been quite a rollercoaster...the highs, the lows, and each one has taught me so much."

After winning, Shetty played down the rows within, saying her biggest shock in the house was "to cook". Meanwhile, in a sign the Shetty bandwagon has started its unstoppable roll towards the bright lights of fame and fortune in Western capitals, the actor's newly-appointed PR man and agent, Max Clifford declared he had high hopes of this rising star.

Clifford, who is one of the UK's highest-paid and highly-rated PR men, confirmed Shetty "has a great deal of offers already on the table but the emphasis will certainly be on quality rather than quantity".

He added that he was yet to determine "what exactly she (Shetty) wants to do. I will be sitting down with Shilpa and her mother very soon."

In an indication Shetty's calm acceptance of Western political correctness is exactly the right commercial pitch to make her millions, her agent said, "I think she handled herself excellently while she was in the house. By forgiving her fellow housemates and talking about how she thinks their comments were based on ignorance rather than racism she has taken a huge step."

Meanwhile, the actress jokily confessed she would accept the romancing of 61-year-old US television star Dirk Benedict only if he were "need to be at least 38 years younger and start eating chicken curry move to India or to England, I don't mind living in England".

Benedict, who left the Big Brother house two people ahead of Shetty, said he backed her to win because of her "innate elegance and great sense of humour, she did all the cooking couldn't eat it was too spicy but she was doing all the cooking, all the jobs".

Shetty was also given the thumbs-up by Jackson, who said the row with Goody was all about class, "class and no-class can't mix".

In a related starry spin-off for Shetty, sections of the British media began profiling the actress, describing her as " more Jennifer Aniston than (the self-confessed) Angelina Jolie (because she has) a penchant for dubious comedy, an ex who set up home with another film star and her own single status".