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Gere apologizes for India kissing controversy

Richard Gere tried to quell the storm over a public kiss he gave a Bollywood star at an AIDS awareness event, apologizing Friday for any offense.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Richard Gere tried to quell the storm over a public kiss he gave a Bollywood star at an AIDS awareness event, apologizing Friday for any offense.

Gere’s embrace and kiss of actress Shilpa Shetty sparked several noisy demonstrations by hard-line Hindu groups and a flurry of legal complaints, which ended with a judge in the northwestern city of Jaipur issuing an arrest warrant for the two stars for violating obscenity laws.

“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,” Gere said in statement issued by the Heroes Project, an organization the actor co-founded to combat AIDS in India.

“If that has happened, of course it is easy for me to offer a sincere apology,” he said.

The embrace, in front of about 4,000 truckers, was a failed parody of a move from Gere’s film “Shall We Dance” and “a naive misread of Indian customs,” he said.

Gere had earlier taken a harder tone, hitting back at a small group who had complained.

“There is a very small, right-wing, very conservative political party in India, and they are the moral police in India and they do this kind of thing quite often,” he told Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” on Thursday.

Gere said he was confident the issue would be sorted out.

“I don’t know that anyone has actually gone to jail, it has to go through a process. It goes to a reputable court, and they throw it out,” he said on the TV show.

Under Indian law, a person convicted of public obscenity faces up to three months in prison, a fine, or both.

Gere, who left shortly after the kissing incident, is a frequent visitor to India, promoting health issues and the cause of Tibetan exiles. The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has his headquarters in the northern Indian town of Dharmsala.

Legal experts agreed with Gere.

“The order is ridiculous. Even if this hugging and kissing was a bit vulgar, it does not amount to obscenity,” India’s former attorney general Soli Sorabjee told The Associated Press.

Sorabjee said the judge should not have issued an arrest warrant without hearing from Gere and Shetty.

“They are just seeking publicity,” he said.


Richard Gere

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Another senior lawyer called the order “an act of judicial indecency.”

“This is only for cheap publicity and the magistrate and lawyer should be restrained,” Dushyant Dave told the Times of India newspaper.

The kiss had made headlines, and photographs were splashed across front pages in India, where public displays of affection are largely taboo.

In his statement, Gere appealed to the media to let the controversy die.

“I would hope that the media could now end the circus around this episode and dedicate its positive resources and expertise to the eradication of HIV/AIDS and other preventable diseases,” Gere said. “That’s what’s really important here.”

Gere said Shetty was not to blame for the incident.

“I’ve felt terrible that she should carry a burden that is no fault of hers,” he said.

The judge ordered her to appear in his court May 5, saying she did nothing to resist the kiss, which he called “highly sexually erotic.”

Shetty, already well known in India, became an international star after her appearance on the British reality show “Celebrity Big Brother.”

A fellow contestant, Jade Goody, sparked international headlines by allegedly making racist comments to Shetty. Mobs took to the streets of India to denounce Goody, and Shetty went on to win the competition.