Richard Gere, who at one time was voted the “Sexiest Man Alive” by People Magazine, has landed himself in a bit of a predicament this week for using his irresistible manly charm at an AIDS awareness event in India. Gere appeared at a press conference with Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty yesterday, and in front of a cheering crowd proceeded to kiss Shetty on the hand and on both cheeks, before embracing and dipping her down to give her another peck on the cheek. Little did he know, such public displays of affection are largely taboo in India, and in bold violation of their view of propriety. The incident has (apparently) ignited a massive uproar across India, with angry crowds (consisting mainly of right-wing Hindu groups) taking to the streets in several cities to burn pictures of Gere and Shetty. Some are even demanding his arrest.
Shetty recently spoke to the press, trying to downplay the situation: “I understand this is his culture, not ours. But this was not such a big thing or so obscene for people to overreact in such manner… I understand people’s sentiments, but I don’t want a foreigner to take bad memories from here.” Wow. Is it any wonder that the world hates America? Sometimes we forget that there are vast cultural differences out there. Although, at the same time, it does seem crazy how such a minor thing could cause this kind of outrage. I wonder if it’s the actual act that pissed them off, or more the blatant disregard for their customs. In Richard Gere’s defense, however, he is Richard Gere. He really can’t help it. I am just wondering how far this incident will go. Will President Bush issue an apology on behalf of womanizing Americans everywhere? One can only hope.