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Gere says "obscene" kiss was nothing at all

Richard Gere downplayes the fact that an Indian court has ordered his arrest for committing an obscene act in public when he kissed actress Shilpa.

entertainment Updated: Apr 27, 2007 16:25 IST

Hollywood star Richard Gere downplayed on Thursday the fact that an Indian court has ordered his arrest for committing an obscene act in public when he kissed Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty on the cheek.

Gere swooped Shetty up in his arms, dipped her and kissed her several times on the cheek at an event in New Delhi last week to promote AIDS awareness among Indian truck drivers.

This sparked protests in some parts of India, mostly by Hindu vigilante groups, who saw it as an outrage against Shetty's modesty and an affront to Indian culture. A court in the northern city of Jaipur ordered Gere's arrest in response to a complaint by a local lawyer.

Gere, a devout Buddhist who visits India frequently to meet the Dalai Lama, said the event was a success at the time but blew up later.

"Me kissing the girl on the cheek was nothing," Gere told cable channel Comedy Central's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" late on Thursday at a New York studio where he was promoting his latest film, The Hoax.

Although Gere, 57, star of Pretty Woman and An Officer and a Gentleman, could face three months in jail or a fine or both for such an offense, he said he did not know of anyone who had gone to jail for something like this.

"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," said Gere.

"It goes to a reputable court and it gets thrown out."

Groups of men had burned and kicked straw effigies of Gere and Shetty in sporadic protests across the country after newspapers published pictures of the couple kissing on their front pages and TV channels aired replays of the event.

A judge at a Jaipur court watched a video of Gere kissing Shetty and found him guilty of violating Indian laws against public obscenity, said the lawyer, Poonam Chand Bhandari.

The court summoned Shetty to appear on May 5, Bhandari said, adding that Gere was ordered arrested.

Gere visits India frequently to meet the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in northern India, and is a vocal supporter of the Tibetan cause as well as being involved with charities dealing with AIDS and orphans in the country.

Shetty, the winner of the "Celebrity Big Brother" reality TV show in Britain this year, had said the kiss may have gone a "little overboard" but it was not obscene and the protests made India look regressive.

She said Gere was only reenacting his moves from the film Shall We Dance? to entertain the audience at the AIDS event and communicate in a Bollywood style as he did not speak Hindi.

Many commentators subsequently expressed their unhappiness at what they said were fringe groups making a major issue out of a harmless peck on the cheek.

(Additional reporting by Belinda Goldsmith in New York)

First Published: Apr 27, 2007 15:43 IST