|Raj Kundra with Shilpa Shetty during a media conference in Mumbai in September 2012. (Fotocorp)
Maybe someone should make a blockbuster movie inspired by the love story of Raj Kundra and Shilpa Shetty, preferably starring Raj Kundra as the bunny rabbit dazzled by the Bollywood glamour of the girl with the longest legs in showbiz.
It is easy to understand why Kundra dumped Kavita, his Biwi No 1, for Biwi No 2 who had won Celebrity Big Brother in January 2007 and was then the toast of Britain, having survived all the racist taunts flung at her by the (late) Jade Goody and company. Nor is Kundra the first husband to upgrade to Wife 2.0.
Shilpa had the media eating out of her hands and even recruited PR supremo Max Clifford to negotiate fat fees for her interviews with British tabloids (Clifford has his own troubles now allegedly for having molested young girls, charges he completely rejects).
Initially, the assessment of Kundra by the media here was not kind. His wife had just given birth to a baby daughter Deleena in September 2006 and here he was chasing Shilpa like a besotted teenager. But what was Shilpa’s game? Why did she allow Kundra to pursue her till she caught him?
Only she or possibly Subhash Ghai can answer that question. Perhaps she was genuinely moved by his passion and his ardour and his willingness to keep her in the style to which she wished to become accustomed.
Those who met Kundra found he was actually “an agreeable fellow”.
However, it is fair to say that the existence of Kundra, a moderately successful businessman born in Britain on September 9, 1975, of parents who came from Punjab, would probably have passed unnoticed had it not been for his fateful meeting with Shilpa. She was 32 at the time, a year older than Kundra.
At first, these encounters were called “business meetings”. Shilpa got extremely huffy with Kavita for suggesting the actress had broken up her marriage and even threatened to take legal action.
This was the summer of 2007 when the world was at Shilpa’s feet. The official version was that Raj, a businessman with a Dubai connection, was helping Shilpa to launch a perfume called S2.
Asked about his relationship with Shilpa, Kundra told the News of the World: “We’re just friends. I have a business relationship with Shilpa regarding her perfume. My marriage ended 12 months ago and it was nothing to do with Shilpa.”
His wife had told the paper her husband had known Shilpa from February onwards — that is almost immediately after she had left Celebrity Big Brother — but Kundra said: “My wife is very insecure. I’m divorcing her on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour — she never supported my interests or wanted to go out with me.”
Neither might appear very pressing grounds for divorce but in the Mail on Sunday, Kundra was quoted as saying: “I am the licenser of a perfume with Shilpa Shetty. We met three months ago through her agent Farhath Hussain and developed the interest in the perfume. We are just good friends.”
He confirmed, as his wife had alleged, that he had ended the marriage by text message and sent her clothes to her in black bin-liners.
Dale Bhagwagar, Shilpa’s publicist in Mumbai, told the Mail on Sunday that she and Kundra were just friends, but added: “Shilpa is single and ready to mingle. When she gets engaged to anyone, when she has found the right man, she’ll announce it.”
The News of the World quoted Kavita as saying: “Shilpa is a cultural icon in the Indian community but she’s not what she appears. She can have any man she wants — there are plenty of single men. She didn’t need to go after my husband.”
Kavita said she had received a text message from her husband which read: “ ‘Lots of rumours in press regarding Shilpa and me. Dad says press were standing outside house all day asking questions’.”
Why a man who is accused of having an affair with Shilpa should send his wife such a text was puzzling but Kavita told the paper: “I texted back saying, ‘Is this your way of telling me?’ He just ignored the question. Since then, every time I try to find out the depth of their relationship, he avoids the question. Or he laughs.”
Kavita recalled a conversation with her husband after the couple had separated: “Then on one weekend visit to see Deleena, it came out of the blue. We were having a Sunday roast pub lunch and he announced, ‘Guess what? Shilpa and her mother have been asking personal questions about me — liking me for a potential husband.’ He said it in such a proud, bragging way that I was stunned. I asked if he’d met her and he said yes. I asked him if he liked her and he said, ‘She’s pretty. She’s nice. Yes, I know her.’ That was the first time I realised Raj might be serious about Shilpa.”
Kavita went on: “Now I find it really hard and hurtful to even look at pictures of her. That’s the woman who’s got my husband, wrecked my marriage and is now living my life.’ ”
On one visit, Kavita asked her husband: “Are you seeing Shilpa? Are you going to marry her?’ But he just laughed and said, ‘Yeah, right, I don’t think she’d be interested in me.’”
The scoop that Kundra and Shilpa were an item came from Mail columnist Richard Kaye who reported that Shilpa had “found love” with “self-made millionaire”, London-born Raj Kundra.
He was described as the son of a gold and diamond trader, who had “made a £6-million fortune in fashion, diamonds and film”. Kaye added that “the couple began their fragrant affair” while working on Shilpa’s scent project.
One should fast-forward the story after the intermission. Shilpa eventually admitted she was “dating” Kundra and together the couple invited Hello! magazine to Kundra’s seven-bedroom house in Weybridge, Surrey, where they intended to live after marriage (in reality, the couple live mostly in Mumbai).
Shilpa said her romantic relationship with Kundra did not begin until he had obtained a divorce from Kavita. She also slightly rewrote history. “To be honest, I think I was in love with Raj from day one — but I was in denial,” she now said.
She added that she laid down a condition for Raj: “I made it clear to him that our relationship could go no further than friendship until he actually had his divorce.”
Newspaper accusations that she was a “marriage wrecker” caused her heartache. “It actually made me feel physically ill,” said Shilpa. “To be called a marriage-breaker was the worst thing possible. It brought such shame on to my parents, and I felt so bad for their sake.”
Kundra and Shilpa were married on November 22, 2009. Their son, Viaan, was born on May 21, 2012.
One cannot be sure about this but it was probably Shilpa’s idea to get involved in the Indian Premier League since a number of Bollywood stars had also seen the venture as a way of making money. In 2009, it was reported that Kundra and Shetty had invested in the Rajasthan Royals using an offshore company based in Mauritius as the vehicle for doing so. The couple hoped to use Shilpa’s image and status as a “global brand” as a means of boosting the image of the team through merchandising and media exposure, as well as attracting sponsors.
Marriage to Shilpa meant that Kundra was also, by association, a celebrity himself. Sanjay Dutt turned up to lend support to Keith Vaz in his Leicester East constituency in May 2010, just before the general election. Shilpa could not come herself but recognising the debt she owned Vaz for highlighting her case in the Commons when she was being subjected to racist abuse on Celebrity Big Brother, she sent her husband to represent her. He did so in an understated and charming way.
Kundra told The Telegraph at that time that his investment in the Rajasthan Royals, then led by Australian spinner Shane Warne, was “totally, totally, 100 per cent” above board. “We are British,” he said, referring to his own activities. “We like to do things clean and above board.”
Questions were first raised about the stake held in the Rajasthan Royals by Kundra and Shilpa by the then BCCI president Shashank Manohar who said: “I did not find in the shareholders’ register the name of Mr Raj Kundra and Shilpa Shetty who claim to be the stakeholders.”
Shilpa “tweeted” angrily that she was a “brand ambassador” while the shares are held by her husband. It was suggested the paperwork has not been completed.
According to the statement from the Rajasthan Royals, to which Kundra drew attention, “in February 2009 Kuki Investments Ltd (Raj Kundra and family) acquired an 11.7 per cent stake in EM Sporting Holdings Limited, the parent company of Jaipur IPL Cricket Pvt Ltd, which was fully disclosed to the BCCI/IPL”.
The statement in 2010 also said: “The current shareholders of EM Sporting Holdings Limited, who all have multiple business interests and independent means, are as follows: Emerging Media (IPL) Ltd (Manoj Badale - 32.4 per cent), Tresco International Ltd (Suresh Chellaram Family - 44.2 per cent), Blue Water Estate Ltd (Lachlan Murdoch — 11.7 per cent) and Kuki Investments Ltd (Raj Kundra & Family — 11.7 per cent). There are no other shareholders.”
In the UK, Kundra had also invested in a musical, Miss Bollywood, in which Shilpa had starred.
Kundra took a stake, amounting to a third of the equity, in the UK catering and restaurant group, V8 Gourmet. Shilpa was involved in this, too, and contracted to help create a range of recipes. Kundra, who said he had seven successful companies (though several of his UK companies were shown to have been wound up in records kept by Companies House in London), described himself as “chairman and CEO of a Dubai-based company, Trade Essential”.
He called himself “a college dropout” who “started his entrepreneurial journey at the age of 19 importing pashminas from Nepal to London”.
Kundra moved on to trading in rough and polished diamonds. He said his “visits to Antwerp, Dubai, Russia and Ukraine dealing with high-end corporate organisations opened doors to new business ventures and investments from mining, construction and ready mix concrete production to entertainment, sports and hospitality businesses”.