Why it took 15 years for Shilpa Shetty to be cleared in Richard Gere kissing case

The Bollywood actress's case, which was filed in 2007, has languished for years in the courts

An Indian court has cleared Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty of an obscenity charge that was filed 15 years ago, when she was kissed on the cheek by Hollywood star Richard Gere. Photos: Reem Mohammed and Lee Hoagland / The National
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It was a kiss that made headlines around the world. Almost 15 years after Shilpa Shetty was charged with obscenity for kissing Hollywood actor Richard Gere at an event in Rajasthan, a Mumbai court has cleared the Bollywood actress, calling her a "victim of the alleged act".

In an order issued on January 18 but made public this week, the Mumbai court said Shetty was not "a conspirator or perpetrator of any crime".

"Not a single element of any of the alleged offence is being satisfied in the complaint,” the court said.

While the case was initially filed in Rajasthan in 2007, where it languished for years, Shetty's request to have it transferred to Mumbai, where she is based, was granted by India's Supreme Court in 2017.

Public displays of affection are still largely taboo in India. Under Indian law, a person convicted of public obscenity faces up to three months in prison, a fine or both.

What actually happened?

In April 2007, Shetty and Gere were attending an Aids awareness charity event in Rajasthan when the Pretty Woman star hugged Shetty, swept her backwards and planted a number of kisses on her cheek.

The incident led to an uproar a few days later after the incident was widely reported, with images of the clinch splashed across front pages of newspapers.

Protests also broke out in some parts of India, spearheaded by the right-wing Hindu nationalist political party Shiv Sena, which claimed that the actors had insulted Indian values.

A court in Jaipur even issued arrest warrants for Gere and Shetty, saying their kiss "transgressed all limits of vulgarity". Shetty was also accused of not resisting Gere's advances appropriately.

Gere, a well-known Buddhist and regular visitor to India owing to his relationship with the Dalai Lama, had already returned to the US when the controversy broke out, which left Shetty to fend off the media uproar.

"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," she told news agency PTI, at the time. "I understand people's sentiments, but I don't want a foreigner to take bad memories from here."

Gere also publicly apologised, saying the kiss was an attempt to demonstrate that kissing was a safe activity that did not spread Aids.

"What is most important to me is that my intentions as an HIV/Aids advocate be made clear, and that my friends in India understand that it has never been, nor could it ever be, my intention to offend you," he said through his publicist. "If that has happened, of course it is easy for me to offer a sincere apology."

Speaking through her then representative Dale Bhagwagar, Shetty reiterated the situation had been "blown out of proportion".

“It is sad that Gere had to apologise for no fault of his. All he had done was enacted a scene from his film Shall We Dance to entertain the truckers at the Aids awareness event. It was a natural, cute and loving impromptu gesture by Gere," she said.

The actress's response only enraged radical political groups, with some even storming her film set in Mumbai, burning her effigies and shouting slogans.

One year after the incident, the Supreme court dismissed Gere's and Shetty's arrest warrants, saying the complaints were "frivolous" and filed for "cheap publicity".

The complainants "have brought a bad name to the country", the court said.

Cleared at last

Shetty, who made her debut in the 1993 Bollywood hit Baazigar, has since stood her ground as other complaints against her continue to linger in the courts. One of the charges was that she did not protest when kissed by Gere.

The actress, who's been in the news recently for the arrest of her businessman husband Raj Kundra, has not publicly spoken about this week's ruling. On Wednesday, however, she shared a quote about thankfulness from Buddha on her Instagram Stories.

"I will start and end today thinking about how fortunate I am," she posted.

Updated: January 27, 2022, 11:00 AM