| Shilpa arrives for Celebrity Big Brother. Telegraph picture
London, Jan. 4: Judging from the early feedback, Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty, who turned on the full glamour of the world’s biggest film industry when she walked into Celebrity Big Brother House about 9 pm last night, is proving to be quite a hit on Channel 4 television.
She wore a sari, plenty of jewellery, did a namaste to the ranks of snappers and onlookers and tossed her glossy, well-shampooed and blow-dried Mumbai hair this way and that.
Asian viewers throughout the UK appeared today to be glued to their sets, watching Shilpa get out of bed, go into the bathroom, do her face and her hair, bond with her fellow housemates, notably 1970s pop singer Leo Sayer, 58, wonder whether she should address Ken Russell, the 79-year-old legendary film director, as “uncle”, and generally show off her statuesque figure — but not as revealingly as Danielle Lloyd, 23, a beauty queen who had her Miss Great Britain title taken away because she got a little too close to one of the judges.
A typical comment came from an Indian woman journalist in her early forties who gushed: “I felt so emotional when I saw Shilpa walk up last night — she looked stunning (which, to be fair, Shilpa did). I watched till 1 am last night and this morning my (elderly) mum has been watching.
“We are so proud of Shilpa. I am glad she is keeping her Indian culture. She is wearing a long kurta with jeans. She has got a better figure than anybody else but she’s not flaunting it. We are worried she might be voted off. Channel 4 has, at last, done something right.”
Initial ratings indicate that 7.1 million viewers tuned in to the start of the fifth series of Celebrity Big Brother. Although it is not possible for Channel 4 to provide an ethnic breakdown of viewing figures, word of mouth — “have you seen Shilpa'” Indians are telephoning each other — suggests that Asians are starting to relate to this reality show, probably for the first time.
Celebrity Big Brother, and its non-celebrity version, Big Brother, trades on housemates behaving badly. Under the strain of living in a human zoo for weeks on end, the 11 celebrities who walked in last night — they will be joined tomorrow by a “family” — may yet crack and begin squabbling over trifles.
Last night, the men gallantly helped Shilpa with the exacting task of lugging and opening her suitcase.
For the moment, Shilpa seems to be getting on like a house on fire with the short-statured Sayer, who told the tall actress that he had to go to Japan for his clothes. She responded by saying she didn’t go to Japan since nothing there would fit her, and the two laughed.
Sayer also told her she looked this morning like something that had stepped out of the popular American soap, Dynasty. “Hollywood will be watching you.” At this rate, he is in danger of becoming Shilpa’s friend for life.
According to Channel 4, Indians in India who want to see this show can do so on the web, logging on to www.channel4.com/bigbrother and following the instructions. “BBC World has also asked for clips,” a spokeswoman added.
Bollywood stars are a familiar sight in Britain but generally they and their agents control their images. This time, though, Asian viewers can look forward to seeing Shilpa flossing her teeth, going in and coming out of the bathroom, getting into bed and interacting with other housemates who have little idea of what it means to be a Bollywood star in India.
Last night, there was an introductory clip of Shilpa, who was the sixth housemate to enter Big Brother House.
To the background of a Hindi song and a gyrating Shilpa, she said: “Hi, I am Shilpa Shetty. I’m an Indian film actress.”
With becoming modesty, she went on: “I’m lucky enough to be one of the most well-known film actors in Indian cinema. They have simply touted me as the Indian Angelina Jolie. I don’t know how to react to that but it’s good.”
She explained: “In India, everywhere I go, I do get recognised. I get all this and so much more in terms of love. I honestly shouldn’t feel that I’m special. It would stem maybe if you didn’t recognise me and people didn’t want to know more about my life. I am very synonymous with glamour.”
Then the door opens to what is obviously a spacious Mumbai apartment, with Shilpa holding a spoilt pooch: “Welcome, my humble abode. At least, meet Champagne. Being a celebrity is really tough. It’s not easy to be an actor. I constantly travel with an entourage and I know I won’t have that in Big Brother House. I thought it would be incredible for a Bollywood actor to go there and showcase, not just Bollywood, but also Indian culture. No, I don’t put 100 per cent into everything I do. I put in 200 per cent. You know if I was a maidservant I would like to be the best maidservant in the world. That’s the way I am.”
Back live, the bubbly Channel 4 presenter, Davina McCall, who ushered in each contestant in turn, declared: “Ladies and gentleman, let’s give a warm Bollywood welcome to Shilpa Shetty.”
After the rousing cheers, she did a little interview with McCall, who asked: “How does this compare with Bollywood'”
Shilpa: “Pretty much the same, just that people know me slightly better there.”
McCall: “We are going to get you know you. And have you actually seen Big Brother'”
Shilpa: “Not too much. We have just started something like this in India. It’s the same format.”
McCall: “So you have not seen this at all' So you haven’t seen the UK version' (gleefully) Brilliant!”
Shilpa: “God’s been really kind. It’s a great opportunity. I just want every Indian to be extremely proud that I’m in here.”
McCall: “And you normally have an entourage' And are you going to miss them'”
McCall (trifle sarcastically): “It’s hard isn’t it, without an entourage' Ok, Shilpa, good luck.”
As she walked in, Russell looked bewildered. He has seen glamour before but Shilpa was clearly outside his experience.
With a backward glance, McCall commented: “She’s so beautiful, isn’t she' I can’t stop watching.”
Neither can Indians in the UK who are aware that Shilpa has entered a gladiatorial contest.
Given odds of 10-1 to win, she said in a statement: “I have zero expectations. The only thing I really hope to keep is my self-respect and my dignity.”