Bollywood was up in arms yesterday over what it called the racist bullying of Indian film star Shilpa Shetty on British TV show Celebrity Big Brother, and dozens of her fans protested in the east of the country.

Almost 10,000 British viewers of the show have complained that Shetty, 31, had been subjected to racist abuse, prompting an investigation into the charges by British media watchdog Ofcom.

Contestants have made fun of the A-list Bollywood actress's name, her eating habits and her Indian background.

She was called a "dog" and reduced to tears in the Big Brother house, a complex of rooms and a garden where participants are locked in for the duration of the show.

"What is happening on Big Brother is just holding the mirror to the Western society," leading Bollywood film maker Mahesh Bhatt told Reuters.

"This is the real, discriminating face of the West you can see on the streets of London or New York."

Dozens of Shetty's admirers took to the streets in the eastern Indian city of Patna to protest against what they said was her humiliation, burning straw effigies of her housemates.

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"Shilpa is very popular in Bihar, and her song and dance numbers in the movies have won our hearts," Ravindra Yadav, a protester, told local television, referring to the state of which Patna is the capital.

Talk of the show has dominated India's celebrity-obsessed media, with images of a tearful Shetty featuring on television reports and the front pages of newspapers.

India's Information and Broadcasting Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi appealed to Shetty to appear before the Indian High Commission in London and give the facts.

"She should understand that if there has been some racism shown against her in the show, it is not only an attack on women but also on the skin and the country," Dasmunsi told reporters.

Britain's prime-minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown, on a visit to India, told reporters he had heard about viewers' complaints.

"I want Britain to be seen as a country of fairness and tolerance and anything that detracts from that, I condemn."

Some in Bollywood felt that the controversy had been generated to ensure more eyeballs for the show.

"Think [about if] all this controversy could benefit the show and enhance its popularity," said director Sujay Ghosh.

Meanwhile, UK police are investigating threats against Celebrity Big Brother housemates after an outburst of public concern over alleged racist bullying of Shetty. Police in Hertfordshire, north of London, said two e-mailed threats had been sent to the show's broadcaster Channel 4.

"[They] contain unspecified threats against a number of the housemates. Police are currently looking into the e-mails," a spokesman said late on Tuesday.

Detectives also received a telephone call complaining about "alleged racist behaviour" on the programme, he said.

The caller was referred to the media watchdog Ofcom.

Ofcom has received 7,600 complaints from viewers concerned that housemates, including reality TV star Jade Goody, former beauty queen Danielle Lloyd and ex-S Club 7 singer Jo O'Meara were victimising Shetty, media reported yesterday.

A further 2,000 e-mail and telephone complaints were made directly to Channel 4, they said.

The broadcaster said it took matters of racism and bullying seriously. "Shilpa herself has not voiced any concerns of racial slurs or bullying against her," Channel 4 said in a statement.


The boss of Carphone Warehouse, a mobile phone retailer, said his firm was reviewing its sponsorship of the programme, according to The Times.

"The sponsorship is constantly under review. Clearly, we are against racism," Charles Dunstone told the paper.

Lawmaker Keith Vaz put forward an early day motion in parliament, saying: "We would not tolerate this kind of racism on any other type of television programme."