Shilpa wins, will anything change?

As predicted by the markets, Shetty today won Celebrity Big Brother in the UK. The whole thing was a very big deal in some ways. It sparked intense debate in the UK and caused an international furore. Tony Blair weighed in, as did the mayor of London Ken Livingston, and at least six cabinet ministers including Gordon Brown, the man who is likely to become the next PM. The media coverage of the whole thing has been intense. It has resurrected Shetty’s career, and buried the careers of Danielle Lloyd and Jade Goody. English celebrities will probably be on their best behavior concerning issues of race for the near future, and broadcasters more careful about racist content.

Still – will this tempest in a teapot matter in a few months? Will it lead to any real changes for British Asians, or will it soon be forgotten?

Over at Pickled Politics Sunny directs our attention to an article earlier this week by Priyamvada Gopal in the Guardian. In it, the author raises a number of important questions. Firstly, how deep is our recently renewed ethnic solidarity:

For British Asians, the public display of familiar battles poked at raw wounds, inspiring large numbers to protest. I would feel a lot more excited about this apparent resurgence of anti-racist awareness if recent years had shown more evidence of a genuine activist spirit among us. Where were these tens of thousands of protesting voices when young Zahid Mubarak died at the hands of a white racist cellmate with whom he should not have been made to share a cell? When a few hundred Sikh women protested alone at discriminatory treatment by British Airways meal supplier Gate Gourmet? [Link]

How much of our response to Shetty’s treatment reflects class anxiety and aspirations?

India … is increasingly obsessed with disseminating the myth of the nation as fundamentally middle-class, professional and successful. The task has partly fallen on the feminine shoulders of India’s flourishing glamour industry.

This anxiety to belong to the global community of the economically successful explains Shilpa’s repeated protests that she is not from the “slums” and did not grow up on the “roadside”… Shilpa understands her task clearly: to show the world that India is really about beauty and entrepreneurial success, not slums and poverty. Losing neither time nor opportunity, India Tourism brought out a full-page ad last week … [Link]

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p>The author also asks, perceptively, whether the response to racist bullying drew, in part, on uncomfortable stereotypes of another sort:

Just as nauseating is the play-off between ugly white slags and beautiful Indian princesses – a familiar Orientalist male fantasy. An Independent editorial described a contest between “the low-life Ms Goody” and “a pampered Indian megastar of singular beauty” (that Shilpa is hardly a megastar is beside the point). Stuart Jeffries in the Guardian deplored “ugly, thick, white Britain” and “one imperturbably dignified Indian woman [displaying] the supposed British virtues of civility, articulacy and reserve”. Shilpa does deftly combine Orientalist fantasy and Lord Macaulay’s successfully realised Anglicist project of creating “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English” in other ways.

A national debate on race relations needs to take place. But it must be more complex than the simple binaries and easy scapegoating provided by such mud-wrestling idiocies. All of us must take a good, hard look at racist practices and our own complicity in them. Let’s have done with the bullying on all sides. [Link]

It’s very hard for me to judge what actually went on. I’m sitting in the USA, getting second hand reports about what was happening in the contrived, manipulated and edited atmosphere of a Big Brother set thousands of miles away. So the whole thing is rather distant to me. While I’m thrilled that people overwhelmingly rejected bullying, my question is – what now?

84 thoughts on “Shilpa wins, will anything change?

  1. Well, twenty years ago the kind of bullying and racist abuse Shilpa got would not have raised a protest on British TV. The fact that it caused a storm shows how far Britain has progressed. I don’t buy the line that all is rosy in the English garden, but I don’t think it’s a bad place, and in many ways it’s great.

    Priyamvada Gopal article, yeah but what about this and what about that, you can just about say that for everything.

    And Shilpa’s bank balance will change, that’s probably the biggest change after all this.

  2. Nice post! And good article by Gopal. But I’m not sure if incidents like this can really be deconstructed into a “what now”? For me, Shilpa-gate was just one of many examples of people exhibiting their ugly, racist sides. It’s happened before, and will continue to happen. All we can hope is that some folks start to question their own racist beliefs (including desis), as Gopal suggested.

    But trying to ascertain if this will lead to any real changes in British society or will have any notable effects…I’m a pessimist. This will be forgotten about in a couple of weeks.

  3. Snapper, what do you say to this:

    Film director Deepak Tijori, who made the film Fareb (Deceit) with Shilpa Shetty, says the row over alleged racist remarks directed at the actress by other contestants would not help revive her Bollywood career. “The market value of an Indian actor or actress is entirely dependent on the performance of his or her last film at the box office. Nothing else matters,” he told the BBC News website. Incidentally, the film, which also starred her younger sister Shamita and actor Manoj Bajpai, flopped badly and made huge losses. Mr Tijori said on the back of the Big Brother publicity, Shetty could get herself an international agent and look abroad for work but none of this would make any difference to film-makers in India. [Link]
  4. Shilpa understands her task clearly: to show the world that India is really about beauty and entrepreneurial success, not slums and poverty.

    Yeah right. Sweep the massive slums and abject, dehumanising poverty under the rug. How many people are going to be fooled by that?

    Perhaps thats why Jade Goody called Shilpa “a fake” and yelled at her to “go to the slums and see your fans”. She has already visited India and seen the horrible conditions in which the great majority of Indians live.

    I predict that the western media spotlight will soon be turned on India’s own racism/casteism/classism/colorism etc. About time. Perhaps foreign pressure is whats needed to shame Indians into showing some compassion for the tens of millions of hungry children, bonded children, child brides, shunned widows and so on.

  5. Ennis,

    First, Tijori Bhai is upset at the flop he made with Shipa.

    I think if Shilpa plays her cards well, she can cash in very well. Maybe, not through serious acting. They are talks of a musical with Bollywood songs with Shilpa in London. I think her future lies in being spoke person, host for shows like reality cricket, musicals – stage and films.

    This anxiety to belong to the global community of the economically successful explains Shilpa’s repeated protests that she is not from the “slums” and did not grow up on the “roadside”…

    Why shouldn’t she protest when she does not live on roadside.

    Goyal ji does not impress me too – smoking his pipe, pontificating in his tweeds, over some biscuits and tea from the halls and gardens of Cambridge. He is does not stand up to something concrete – be it bullying, or whatever.

    Sure, it a grander scheme, it is a small event but is telling nevetheless.

  6. “The market value of an Indian actor or actress is entirely dependent on the performance of his or her last film at the box office. Nothing else matters,”

    Honestly, market value of an Indian actress is dependent on anything but their performance, it seems it’s more dependent on their looks, age and marital status.. Kajol is an actress of good caliber do we see her in the roles that she used to play before ? Obviously not, because now she is a married woman , therefore not ideal to play the role of any of the “heroine” types who are usually innocent virgins who fall in love. I think the last thing Shilpa should care about is if Bollywood embraces her as an actress.. I do think she is not a great actress but better than most. I think she might have other opportunities in the international arena.

  7. Wow this is wonderful! I can’t remember the last time our community mobilized itself to this extent. Can you? Our dedicated efforts have led to the expulsion of a loutish Cockney woman from a TV show which then led to a 2nd rate Bollywood actress winning the big prize. Next up on the list of things for us to tackle are such trivial matters as gender inequality, caste, poverty and the like. I’m going to go burn an effigy against poverty.

  8. Why do so many people care about this bad bollywood actress so much?

    I’m really sick of these trollish messages you constantly post. You need to be evicted. Ugh.

  9. Ennis – what Kush said, I hope she does well. It’s about name cachet and marketing, right? She’s a houshold name in the UK now, and Indian filmmakers often make movies with an eye on the foreign market these days.

  10. Abe Doordarshan, Ghise-pite record ki tarah ek hi gana bajata rahta hai! Kyo yaar, tereko kyan khujli hain? Agar itna hi dard hain to India jake garibon ki madad kar. Ab baksh de hum logon ko!

    Translation: Yo Doordarshan, Why do you keep playing the same song like a broken record? What is troubling you so much about this world? If you feel so much for the poor of India, go there and help them. How about giving us a break on this forum for a while?

    Regards,

  11. Yeah of course it’s trivial in the long term, but so is half the shit we talk about in our lives.

  12. Yeah of course it’s trivial in the long term, but so is half the shit we talk about in our lives.

    The reason why I ask this question is because BritAsians keep comparing this to Macacagate in the US. While the impact of Macacagate may have been overblown, it still will cause substantive political changes, however minor. It’s not clear how much impact CBB will have had in 6 months.

  13. It’s not clear how much impact CBB will have had in 6 months.

    In that respect, in relation to the macaca thing, obviously it won’t have a direct effect, but it definitely brought some issues and tensions to the surface that got debated. I suppose generally having an Indian woman as a well known glamourous role model and nationally admired has some kind of effect, same thing as Monty Panesar, it’s intangible, but culturally has a certain grooviness.

  14. Why do so many people care about this bad bollywood actress so much? I’m really sick of these trollish messages you constantly post. You need to be evicted. Ugh

    .

    joat: i have to disagree with you on about the feelings clueless posted about this B or C actress i’m also sick and tired of hearing about shilpa shetty.. how much impact will she have with the entire cbb factor? a few more movies added to her wonderful filmography? fantastic… more people added to her so called entourage? god bless her.. i think living on this side of the pond and my utter disinterest in bollywood likely contributes to the ‘who the hell cares’ factor..

  15. In that respect, in relation to the macaca thing, obviously it won’t have a direct effect, but it definitely brought some issues and tensions to the surface that got debated. I suppose generally having an Indian woman as a well known glamourous role model and nationally admired has some kind of effect, same thing as Monty Panesar, it’s intangible, but culturally has a certain grooviness.

    See, I think the Panesar effect (something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while) will be deeper because he’s there on TV in most matches. I mean, when you have brits dressing up as an Asian bowler, that’s a seismic change. And he’s got more time to make that change in.

    I think that the reaction to Shetty’s treatment was based on a sense of fair play, but I suspect it wont be as deep beyond more caution on the part of celebrities and broadcasters. For one thing, she was a foreigner, which changes the debate.

  16. joat: i have to disagree with you on about the feelings clueless posted about this B or C actress i’m also sick and tired of hearing about shilpa shetty..

    I think the story has weight if it touched so many people for them to call and complain about the treatment of someone that wasn’t one of them. Just as Macacagate had touched a raw nerve with desis in the US, this apparently has touched a raw nerve with desis in UK and I think for what it’s worth that sentiment should be respected regardless of how sick one might feel of hearing the story over and over again. Call it triumph of good over evil there is something heartwarming about this story and next week no one will care to discuss it here. It isn’t so much Shilpa the B movie has been that people are celebrating as much as her attitude in the face of serious harshness that set off a larger discussion for UK. At least that is the way I see it. I don’t think the people of UK in general are that stupid to not see the larger issue.

    And my retort to Clueless was regarding majority of his/her post in the past which don’t really discuss anything but are rather trollish in nature.

  17. It’s perverse that in this article Gopal suggests that Brit-Gujaratis are complicit through their silence in the massacres at Godhra while failing to bring up the fact that Brit-Muslims continue to bankroll atrocities against Hindus in Kashmir.Real community bridge building requires that all parties engage in critical introspection. Priyamvada Gopal and Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty can rail against Hindu non-participation all they want, but quite frankly there is no benefit at present to share in an identity that requires us to wear a collective hair shirt.

    While Shetty should not have been treated this way, earlier talks of an Indian govt. inquiry put me in a rage. Indian laborers are treated horribly in the Gulf Arab states, surely this takes precedence over some ditz who willingly put herself in a situation that is obnoxious by design. Some desis interviewed on TV seemed offended by Ms. Goody’s comment that Indians eat with their hands (um, most of us do in fact). The ridiculous thing about the tourism board’s offer is, that short of blindfolding Goody or having her land on an Air Force base and whisking her off to a hill station, that the trip will only confirm her opinion of India. We need to make India a better place for our peeps, no point in defending ourselves against insults with a basis in reality

  18. her mother is muslim

    I heard that her mother was a Lesbian. Is she a lesbian muslim?

  19. See, I think the Panesar effect (something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while) will be deeper because he’s there on TV in most matches. I mean, when you have brits dressing up as an Asian bowler, that’s a seismic change. And he’s got more time to make that change in.

    I agree – I love it when Monty is in full effect.

    Generally, it’s been really gratifying to see the backlash against the kind of thing that happened to Shilpa amongst white British people, and how they have embraced her. What has been surprising is how nice she is. I expected her to be a complete pompous diva, but she’s very down to earth and has elegance and poise that was impressive. She has a great sense of humour too.

  20. Yet another accusatory essay by Priyamvada Gopal alleging mass conspiracy by white Brits to keep brown people down?

    Really isnÂ’t this whole line of argument alleging a sort of monolithic agency to white establishment unsubstantiated and quite dim-witted?

    Meh!

    And if weÂ’re going to so securely hedge our bets alluding to everyone Macaulay downwards, how can we forget–as JOAT reminds us–about GandhiÂ’s stoicism?

    Ennis, I havenÂ’t watched CBB or the clips on YouTube (itÂ’s been a busy week) But thanks for your updates on the issue. I predict weÂ’ll be seeing academic analyses aplenty on this issue.

    Hey–and good for Shilpa! And everyone else who wins while doing the right thing.

  21. Yet another accusatory essay by Priyamvada Gopal alleging mass conspiracy by white Brits to keep brown people down?

    I read it as pointing the finger at BritAsians and the Indian government more than anything.

    Ennis, I havenÂ’t watched CBB or the clips on YouTube (itÂ’s been a busy week) But thanks for your updates on the issue.

    For the record, this is my first and only post on the issue :)

  22. While Shetty should not have been treated this way, earlier talks of an Indian govt. inquiry put me in a rage

    I dont think the Indian government was ever going to do anything like that. By a freak coincidence the next Prime Minister of Britain was visiting India, and the tabloids asked him and probably the Indian ministers he was doing photo-ops with about it all, and they probably just used civil service language and diplomatic nicety along the lines of ‘the government blah blah blah’. I agree with you about the pomposity of some people though.

  23. That guardian article is the only publication that has printed that Jade’s mother is a Muslim. I very much doubt it. There was absolutely mention of it while she was in the house, nor some days after she was evicted. She drank, ate pork, yet the article says she is a practicing Muslim.

    I suspect that it may have been a mistake. The writer may have gotten the notes mixed up with Jermaine Jackson, whose faith has been discussed. Everything the article talks about, they are things that Jermaine has discussed about his life.

    If not, it is a very cheap attempt by the publicist. I highly doubt that the lady is Muslim.

    But seeing it was just that one article in the Guardian, I suspect that it was the mistake of mixing up Jermaine’s and Jackiey’s names.

  24. Plus the fact that there were some complaints initially about Big Brother’s hesitation to air footage of Jermaine praying, strengthens my belief that it is just shoddy reporting.

  25. While Shetty should not have been treated this way, earlier talks of an Indian govt. inquiry put me in a rage

    That was never on the cards, even remotely. In fact, the foreign minister of India had clearly said that UK-India relations has no bearing (or would adversely effect) with CBB when Gordon Brown was there.

    They did make little noise because they did not wanted the opposition parties to seize the matter and run with it. This is something you have to understand in a democracy. If middle east maid servant mis-treatment bothers you, write to MPs in opposition parties. Do that, please.

    You know:

    a) How many people burned effigies? 10-15 teenagers in Patna (Bihar), who were mostly bored.

    b) Do you know the history Indian symbols ridiculed in west? Start with Gandhi as half-naked fakir by Churchill, Indian cricketers called as dull dogs, Summer of 42 (I think Ajit Wadekar team in 70s in UK) and Sudhir Naik fiasco with he being charged as sock thief, the list never ends.

    The more I read Goyal’s article, the more tired and out of ideas he seems to be.

  26. BTW Bunts (Shetty’s community) are meat-eating shudras, though an economically- and socially-dominant caste. So don’t be starting up with that victory for brahminism nonsense. This has nothing to do with caste.

  27. Ennis! Gosh, i’m so darn sorry! I’d been seeing CBB writeups on the Mutiny and mistakenly assumed that all of them were by you. Ok, i amend my thank you to just this update then :) .

    Priyamvada Gopal does make a couple of salient points about class (dis)association by British Asians, but she also makes the same point with regard to the white Brits. One has to wonder what does she want–and what she enables by her increasingly accusatory polemic. It’s all very well to tack on a “we need a harder look into race relations” at the end of an essay that faults most everyone she mentions. For someone of her undeniable intelligence to focus selectively on the failures and mis-statements (per her–some of the laudation of Shilpa Shetty are quite positive in my view) within race relations in the UK is either disingenous or dim-witted. (Or both in this instance.)

  28. Hi Kush

    The more I read Goyal’s article, the more tired and out of ideas he seems to be.

    It’s Priyamvada “Gopal”, not Goyal. And he is a she. Am in agreement that she is annoying and conveniently excludes the atrocities of non-European imperial powers in India. I detest Niall Ferguson, hoping Ms. Gopal is not our “Great Brown Hope” for squashing his position

  29. Jermaine Jackson also handled himself beautifully throughout the whole thing from beginning to end. Mature, wise, calm… came across as a very well grounded person. It was so appropriate for the whole debacle that this show became, that his parting words to Shilpa were ‘kindness is a strength’. I really have a lot of respect for him.

  30. Ennis! Gosh, i’m so darn sorry! I’d been seeing CBB writeups on the Mutiny and mistakenly assumed that all of them were by you. Ok, i amend my thank you to just this update then :) .

    Goodness no. The first two were from Sajit, then one from Cicatrix, and I’m just coming in at the end. I’m too lazy and not all that amused by this story.

  31. Am in agreement that she is annoying and conveniently excludes the atrocities of non-European imperial powers in India. I detest Niall Ferguson, hoping Ms. Gopal is not our “Great Brown Hope” for squashing his position.

    !I like Louiecypher!

  32. she mentions. For someone of her undeniable intelligence to focus selectively on the failures and mis-statements (per her–some of the laudation of Shilpa Shetty are quite positive in my view) within race relations in the UK is either disingenous or dim-witted. (Or both in this instance.)

    I didn’t want to say that, because I didnt want to be mean to her. But you are right, and it was a not un-typical Guardian article, full of bluster and rage, unfocussed, chest thumping and self-righteous, wagging its finger at everyone, joyless and all that.

    Made me want to chat shit about trivial Shilpa stuff some more just for the hell of it.

  33. chick pea and clueless

    When Shilpa boasted ‘she isn’t from the roadside’ I was aghast too at her smugness. [Link]

    That said, the more I see the hype, the more I realize that the Indian diaspora is a gold mine for Bollywood. Shilpa’s agent knows that. It’s good business. More importantly, Shilpa has the power to mobilize the community. That’s a mighty important capacity. The possibilities are endless. Depends on how one uses that power.

    And for the slum-dweller, they don’t really care what attitude Shilpa has towards them; they are happy with Shilpa’s jhatkas and matkas (pelvic thrusts). :)

  34. When Shilpa boasted ‘she isn’t from the roadside’ I was aghast too at her smugness. [Link]

    Read Jai’s comments on another thread for detailed sequence of events, or watch more CBB on their website and/ or youtube to see what happened before. You can view CBB day by day, hour by hour to get the right chronology.

    Jackie (Jade Goody’s mother) and the cohorts were hounding her on the “shack” thing. Pretty sly.

    You would have preferred her saying, “I do not live in shack but most Indians do“. Do you do that yourself in real life. Let’s please practice before we preach.

  35. I’m already having poster’s regret about my last comment.

    Please disregard!!!

    I’m a horrible person, and i’m leaving now, darn it.

  36. RedSnapper: So *i’m* mean :) ?!?

    No, quite the opposite, but I just get wary of criticisng left wing female academics in forthright terms, because I’ve been accused of ‘being in denial about problems’, of being ‘uncomfortable with forthright opinions from women’, that kind of thing, plus you said it so much better :)

    Really, I thought her article was breathless rhetoric, full of sound and fury, saying everything and then nothing in particular.

  37. You would have preferred her saying, “I do not live in shack but most Indians do”. Do you do that yourself in real life. Let’s please practice before we preach.

    So you have imagined what I would have preferred. A sensible response, according to me, is to humbly acknowledge India’s current situation. If you want to identify yourself with the majority, that is.

    You don’t know what I practice, but you are quick in assuming that I am preaching. Anyway, let’s stop the ad hominems right here. Thanks for the pointers. I will see the entire sequence.

  38. To me the Shilpa story seemed more newsworthy from the brown perspective, or in any case, something that I found myself more emotionally involved with, than the macacagate affair. I’m glad SM wrote about it as much as they did. For one thing, the fact that the macaca was an Indian was purely incidental. Any person of color would probably have received the same comment. The mainstream press also seemed to latch on to the story purely for the racist nature of the comment, with the indian part of the equation being largely ignored. As far as the brownz are concerned, it’s hard for me to imagine any long-term important effect of this, as is being claimed. Okay that guy lost, but does that make a dent? But with Shilpa, Indianness is the issue and this resonated with many. And yes India is full of glaring atrocities but as someone commented earlier most of us are busy spending time on fluff anyway rather than attending to those atrocities. Here’s an affair that got peoples’ attention, and if it takes a B-grade bollywood actress to highlight racial issues in the UK, what difference does it make? This is not something a properly-qualified diplomat could ever have accomplished. I’m just worried she’ll get all bratty and blow it now after getting to know what a sensation all of this was.