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Reality check for Shilpa Shetty on UK TV show

Sheltered, that is, until she decided to walk into "Celebrity Big Brother", the British reality TV show.

india Updated: Jan 19, 2007 12:46 IST

With servants to wait on her as a child and her mother chaperoning her on Bollywood film sets, actress Shilpa Shetty led a luxurious and sheltered life.

Sheltered, that is, until she decided to walk into "Celebrity Big Brother", the British reality TV show.

"We brought her up like a princess," her mother, Sunanda Shetty, said.

"This is the first time in her 31 years that she has travelled without me. And now she is getting a taste of the outside world."

Reduced to tears by insults from fellow competitors, Shetty's family says the show has been a reality check for the tall, sultry actress who has said her treatment smacked of racism.

Britain's media watchdog has been flooded with complaints against the show, Europe's biggest mobile phone retailer has pulled its sponsorship and the Indian government has asked Britain to check if race laws had been broken.

Shetty and her main tormentor, loud-mouthed former dental nurse Jade Goody, have been shortlisted for eviction by fellow housemates on the show and face off in a public vote on Friday. Goody is hot favourite to be kicked out.

Beginning her career as a model, Shetty has enjoyed only a few hits among her 40 or so films in Bollywood. She has been overshadowed in recent years by up-and-coming film stars.

She could never have dreamt of the kind of publicity she has so far received on the British show.

Shetty had some success with her first film in 1993, "Bazigaar" (Gambler), in which she played a college student murdered by her boyfriend. But it took time for her to shake off the tag of being just a pretty face.


Wider recognition for her acting skills came in 2004 when she played an advertising agency employee with HIV in "Phir Milenge", a Bollywood take on the Hollywood blockbuster "Philadelphia". It earned her several film award nominations.

Since then, she has virtually been off the Bollywood scene, although two films are due to be released this year.

At 5 feet 10 inches, Shetty loves sport, is a black belt in karate and now makes intermittent appearances as a game show and beauty contest judge. She is also involved in HIV/AIDS prevention programmes and promotes animal rights for the pressure group PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals).

"She is talented. She can speak half a dozen Indian languages and a smattering of French," said a director who has worked with Shetty but refused to be identified because of the controversy surrounding her.

Often seen in leopard and tiger skin print outfits, Shetty, who is single, has had her share of controversies in Bollywood -- including reports of romantic links with actor Akshay Kumar.

She denied the reports and even successfully sued a film magazine for publishing what she said was a damaging article about her and Kumar, who acted with her in several films.

Her family says she put some projects on hold to appear on "Big Brother", for which she is reportedly making more than $680,000, the highest paid of all the housemates.

"We are not after money. By God's grace we are doing well," Sunanda Shetty said. "She did it because she wanted to do it. We did not want to come in between."

"All this has brought out the remarkably mature and graceful side of her," the mother added. "She has not lost her quintessential Indian-ness even amidst all the intimidation."

First Published: Jan 19, 2007 12:46 IST