BY RIDING out the taunts to win Britain's Celebrity Big Brother, Indian actress Shilpa Shetty grabbed a fame greater than anything her Bollywood career had produced.
Shetty, 31, was verbally abused, subjected to allegedly racist taunts and even called a dog by fellow housemates on the hit reality television show, raising a diplomatic storm that made headlines around the world.
The controversy thrust Bollywood's glamour girl known more for her looks than talent into the harsh glare of the international spotlight.
It may also revive what had been a long but less-than-spectacular screen career, with her representatives in talks to co-host the British version of an Indian television cricket programme.
"It's truly been quite a roller coaster ride," Shetty told Channel Four late on Sunday after viewers massively voted in her favour over five other finalists.
"The highs, the lows, and each one of them have really taught me so much."
She heard of the furore for the first time only after leaving the specially built house where the celebrities had been living in sealed-off conditions for 26 days. "I just want to forget things," she said. "I want to put one thing at rest ... Things happened, and people make mistakes."
Show producers had sought out Shetty and reportedly paid her more than the others up to £350,000 to add some Bollywood glamour to proceedings and attract viewers with south Asian roots.
Her spokesman Dale Bhagwagar said it was an honest career move. "She saw it as one step ahead in her life and in her career. She was not doing this for money or for fame. She has it all," he said.
But some commentators said she was clearly eyeing an opportunity to boost a rather unremarkable career in Bollywood, which churns out around 200 films mostly all-dancing romances every year.
Since joining Bollywood in 1993, Shetty has acted in nearly 50 films in the Hindi, Telugu and Tamil languages.
But she has fewer than a dozen hits to her credit although she commands a huge following in India, largely because of her striking looks. After an unsuccessful stint as a fashion model, Shetty started her acting career in 1993 with a bit role in crime thriller Baazigar, which was a huge draw at the box office.
Her first brush with stardom came with her hit dance in Main Khiladi Tu Anari which earned her praise for her svelte shape.
But a wave of flops followed in the next five years, and she said she had almost given up her film career when she shot into the big league again with Dhadkan in 2000. After years of being known only for bringing glamour, Shetty finally found acclaim in 2004 for playing an HIV-positive woman in Phir Milenge.
The actress, from an upper middle class Mumbai family who affectionately call her babucha or honeybunch, has recently campaigned for Aids awareness and animal rights.
Her father runs a chemical business and she attended a convent school and the respected Podar College in Mumbai. She has a tomboy reputation for playing baseball and earning a black belt in karate.
Though Shetty has a huge male fan following, she is not known to be dating anyone currently. In the industry, she is known to enjoy a good rapport with her colleagues.
"Shilpa is a very positive person. She is very professional, does not throw tantrums and is nice to everyone," said Taran Adarsh, editor of film magazine Trade Guide.
In London, Britain's biggest-selling daily The Sun also hailed Shetty's success, saying she had "changed the UK" by the way she dealt with the allegedly racist harassment.
The paper declared on its front page that "the Indian actress looks set to become the nation's sweetheart after she dealt with racism and bullying with good grace and humour".
And in Mumbai, Shetty's neighbours celebrated outside the family home in India's financial hub as fans boasted of a victory for the country.
"It feels good to know that an Indian actress won the British show," said Viren Shah, outside the Shetty home in the Mumbai suburb of Andheri.
Another neighbour said the actress's poise while being taunted about her personal hygiene and cooking skills by some housemates, led by former winner Jade Goody, on the British reality television show showed her good nature.
"She has a very adjusting nature and I am happy that she made it," said close industry colleague and Bollywood actor-turned-producer Deepak Tijori.
"I didn't expect that Shilpa would win because it was a British show and on British television," said Dharmesh Desai, a resident in Shetty's Mumbai building.
"She deserved to win. She has shown what Indian women have they have got grace, composure, compassion," said Bollywood actor Rahul Roy, who won the Indian version of the reality show.
Comedy actor Arshad Warsi, who hosted the Indian show, told anchors on NDTV that her win was a show of inner strength, saying: "It's absolutely tough. Surviving there is not easy at all."
Shetty's triumph dominated news on television networks and news websites were flooded with comments. "It's a victory of our cultural values," wrote Nitin Patney on one media website message board.
"Many thought that you would leave the show and go back to India, but you showed the whole world you have courage. Shilpa has made Indians very proud," wrote Santan F Coutinho on the website of NDTV news network.
Shetty's mother Sunanda had left for London to meet her daughter, while her father Surendra was expected to address the media later yesterday.
Bollywood trade analysts said the show would open up international opportunities for Shetty, but may not revive her sagging Bollywood career.
"In Bollywood, her career was going downhill. This victory will not change much for her here, but she will be swamped with endorsement offers in the UK and the US," said Komal Nahta, editor of trade weekly Film Information. Agencies
Monday, January 29, 2007
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