Britain’s Finance Minister Gordon Brown will visit a top Bollywood studio on Friday just as a row over accusations of racism against an Indian actress on a British TV show grips much of the country.
The controversy surrounding accusations of racist taunts against Shilpa Shetty on Britain’s reality TV show “Celebrity Big Brother” has already overshadowed Brown’s trip to India, meant to raise the profile of Britain’s likely new prime minister.
Bollywood has closed ranks behind Shetty, who has been taunted by her fellow competitors on the show.
But India’s cinema industry, the world’s biggest, is rolling out the red carpet for Brown who is taking time off from meetings with Indian business leaders and politicians to visit a film studio in Mumbai.
The visit was scheduled before the “Big Brother” row exploded. Brown’s visit to the studio is out of bounds for the Indian media, in what local journalists said was to ensure he was not bothered with questions on the controversy.
Brown is expected to meet top Bollywood producer Yash Raj Chopra and some film stars at a studio in a northern Mumbai suburb and discuss the emergence of Hindi-language cinema on a global scale.
Bollywood, the Hindi-language film industry, makes around 1,000 movies a year and has become increasingly popular in Britain.
“We cannot give out details, but it is possible the issue of cooperation in film production between India and Britain will be discussed,” an official of Yash Raj Studio said on condition of anonymity.
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In between meetings with Indian leaders, including Prime Minster Manmohan Singh, Brown has been drawn into commenting on the issue, saying Britain would reject any hint of racial discrimination.
The row is front-page news for the third day running in Indian newspapers. Television channels have slotted it ahead of news of India-China border talks and investigations into a gruesome serial killing near New Delhi.
But newspapers have exercised caution in condemning the treatment meted out to Shetty on the show, saying the Indian government was getting sidetracked from important issues during Brown’s visit.
“There is absolutely no reason for the Indian government to get involved or for the British government to be required to respond,” the Times of India said in an editorial.
“Big Brother” is not available to Indian viewers who have their own, chaster, version, and most Indians were unaware of the show until the media-driven frenzy over Shetty’s treatment.
“We are reading it in the papers and it’s on TV as well. What is happening is not good,” said Ravinder Sahu, a guard at a residential building in Mumbai.