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Bollywood to Bethlehem
westside view
Shilpa Shetty performs in the musical Miss Bollywood

Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan may have delivered the most talked about wedding of the year. But 2007 will also be remembered as the annus when Bollywood and Britain finally tied the knot.

It was a bumpy ride. The love affair took a tempestuous course at the start of the year when Shilpa Shetty was referred to as ‘Shilpa Poppadum’ in the UK’s Celebrity Big Brother house, sparking riots in India, hand wringing in the House of Commons and heated diplomatic discussion between London and Delhi. But while Shilpa’s assailants Jade Goody and Danielle Lloyd were deemed a national disgrace, Shilpa was voted the show’s winner and became the first ever Bollywood star to gain household-name status in the UK. (Yes, even now, the average Brit is far more likely to have heard of Shilpa Shetty than Shah Rukh Khan.)

Then, as winter thawed and spring arrived, the birds twittered and love was in the air. The IIFAs rolled into Sheffield and the north of England rang with the names of Bollywood’s wider pantheon. Shilpa gave a blinding performance at the event, although the ceremony itself was labelled shambolic by some attendees.

By high summer, Bolly and Blighty just couldn’t get enough of each other. London held India Now — a two-month-long celebration of all things springing from the Incredible land — and the festival programme brimmed with Bollywood offerings. They included the unveiling of a giant Bollywood poster at Trafalgar Square, a Bollywood film-a-thon and the arrival of King Khan for the world premier of Chak De! India at London’s Somerset House.

Once the leaves were falling, Britain and Bollywood were audibly cooing in each other’s presence. Shilpa floated regally across the UK in her “dancical” Miss Bollywood; and Om Shanti Om joined the growing list of Bolly hits making it into the UK’s box office Top 10. All that remained was for London Mayor Ken Livingstone to get down on one knee. He did just that in Mumbai, sliding the proverbial ring onto the finger as he signed a deal encouraging more Bollywood shoots in London. Cynics might say Livingstone was simply looking to cash in on India’s economic boom (settling a sizable dowry in this arranged marriage) but nevertheless the nuptial vows ran smoothly.

Now as the year draws to a close and Britain discovers if it has a white Christmas, the question begs to be asked: where are these people now? In the case of the inadvertent cupid of the proceedings, poppadum-catalyst Jade Goody, the answer seems to be Brunei. The gossip is that the former Bolly-bullier is now being courted by Brunei’s Prince Azim.

He reportedly lavished on her a £3 million diamond ring after they met at a party in London. Jade will do well to mind her language and curb her xenophobia: as the second son of the Sultan of Brunei, Azim is heir to a £20 billion fortune. He is also buddies with pop superstars Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson. “He gave me a ring and it is huge, full of diamonds,” Jade told the Daily Mail. Sounds like a nice Christmas gift.

Talking of the yuletide season, who said Bollywood can’t do Christmas? Gurinder Chadha can. The Bride and Prejudice and Bend It Like Beckham director returned last week to her primary school in Southall (London) to film a children’s Nativity play. Armed with cameras and a clapboard, Gurinder captured the dramatic talents of her 11-year-old predecessors performing the seasonal biblical tale. “This is the first time that I have gone back to my old school and was thrilled to be working with the children,” she said. “I feel very touched to have been asked to help out.”

One wonders whether, when it came to the gold, frankincense and myrrh, the three kings weren’t encouraged to bend them like Beckham all the way to Bethlehem.

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