Indian fans of Bollywood film actress Shilpa Shetty protest in Patna over her treatment on the reality show "Celebrity Big Brother". [Photo:singtaonet.com]
The U.K. and Indian governments condemned alleged racism in the U.K. reality television program "Celebrity Big Brother" after complaints that Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty is being abused by fellow contestants.
The U.K.'s media watchdog Ofcom has received 27,000 complaints, three times the previous record for a television show, and an effigy meant to represent the show's producers was burned in Patna, eastern India Wednesday. The previous record for complaints was held by the BBC's screening of "Jerry Springer: The Opera."
"We are determined to send a message out that we want nothing to interfere with Britain's reputation as a country of fairness and tolerance," U.K. Chancellor Gordon Brown, who is coincidentally on an official visit to India, said at a televised press conference in Delhi.
The program has sparked a media storm in the U.K. with tabloid newspapers and commentators calling the bullying of Shetty racist and a national disgrace. The show is screened on the U.K.'s Channel 4 and involves famous people being filmed 24 hours a day living together in a house in Elstree, north of London.
Contestants nominate each other for eviction and are voted off one at a time by a public telephone vote. Shetty and her most vocal tormentor Jade Goody, a former dental nurse who became famous after appearing in a non-celebrity version of the show in 2004, are next up for eviction.
The controversy began when a group of housemates ganged up on Shetty, 31, mocking her accent and calling her "the Indian" and a "dog" One suggested she should clean a toilet with her teeth.
Shetty, who has appeared in dozens of Indian films, has frequently been in tears since the show began two weeks ago. Last night she was on the end of a tirade from Goody after a disagreement over stock cubes. Goody told Shetty to "go back to the slums." Out of Shetty's hearing another housemate, model Danielle Lloyd, suggested that she should go home. For the first time last night, Shetty herself suggested that the bullying may be racially motivated. The contestants are unaware that the program has sparked outrage among the public, with the verbal assaults on Shetty viewed by many as racist.
"I don't think there's anything racist in it," fellow housemate Cleo Rocos, who was consoling the actress after her row with Goody, said. "It is, I'm telling you," Shetty said. "I'm representing my country. Is this what today's U.K. is? It's scary. It's quite a shame, actually."
Jackson Five Singer
Former Jackson Five singer Jermaine Jackson and actor Dirk Benedict, who appeared in the TV shows "The A-Team" and "Battlestar Galactica" are also contestants on the show and have supported of Shetty.
The controversy threatened to overshadow Brown's trip to India where he is making efforts to improve his credentials as a world statesman. He is expected to take over as prime minister when Tony Blair retires later this year.
Brown said he had discussed "Celebrity Big Brother" with India's finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram Thursday.
"I'm confident that universal condemnation will bring about a change in the behavior of those who participate in that kind of show," Chidambaram said at a joint televised press conference with Brown.
This year's "Celebrity Big Brother" had achieved disappointing ratings before the race row erupted and began dominating television and newspaper headlines. Viewing figures for the main daily highlights program were up from 3.5 million on Jan. 16 to 4.5 million Wednesday.
Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson declined to comment on the controversy when he was interviewed today on the British Broadcasting Corp's Radio 4 Today program about a separate issue.
Shetty is a star and doesn't need the show to be famous, her mother Sunanda Shetty told NDTV news network in India, Agence France-Presse reported.
"Everything is done for her but she thought that she wanted to experience this on her own," her mother said. "Maybe it would also show her something of the other side of life."
Despite her star status in India Shetty still lives with her parents.