From time to time the news cycle offers up an event of such import and complexity that it can only be comprehended through the medium of musical theater. This week resident composer Ben Greenman examines the furor caused by Richard Gere's kiss with Shilpa Shetty. As Greenman discovered, the incident has already proved a fertile subject for Bollywood.

[In New Delhi, at an AIDS prevention benefit, the Indian actress SHILPA SHETTY and the American actor RICHARD GERE take to the podium.]


The two of us are here today to help raise AIDS awareness

In a film I once portrayed a woman who was careless.

That film was Phir Milenge—my character caught HIV.

Please heed her example. Do not act so recklessly.


That's right, Shilpa: We need more attention called to this

Issue of safe sex. And now, a little kiss.

[RICHARD GERE kisses SHILPA SHETTY. Immediately there is controversy, as devout Hindus find this public display of affection undignified. Members of Shiv Sena, the Hindu nationalist party, burn images of Gere and Shetty.]


I kissed her, yes, it's true

A gentle little peck.

I got her on the hands and cheek

Not on the breast and neck.

And yet the second my lips touched,

India ignited.

(It's just the women, usually,

Who find themselves excited.)

A thousand angry Hindu men

Have organized a posse

To burn my effigy with sticks

In the streets of Varanasi.


I am hardly a stranger to controversy

In fact, you could say we're best friends

There are times I lay in bed and dream of calmer waters

But the turbulence upon the ocean never seems to end

In 2003 my parents were arrested

Charged with extortion, accused of underworld ties,

In 2006, I was upbraided for a photograph

In which I posed with Reema Sen in sexy ways: Oh, shield your eyes!

On Celebrity Big Brother, I suffered vicious racist taunts

Like "Shilpa Fuckawallah" and "ugly dog": Is that what any woman wants?

But even these humiliations were not sufficient preparation

For the way that Richard's kiss would infuriate my nation.

Did he show affection?

It's fair to say he did

But how was he to know

That it is so forbid?

Or is the word forbidden?

I'm rattled by this fuss

It was just a kiss, a smack,

A tiny insubstantial buss.

[The leaders of Shiv Sena defend the protests. Obscenity complaints are filed against Shetty and Gere in separate courts in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Gere flies to Tibet to address concerns about Tibetan refugees passing through Nepal.]


I'd like to put it all behind me

I have other things to do

Do you know how many unkissed women

There are right here in Katmandu?

I know I've sparked an outrage

And countless late-night jokes

I wish that I felt worse about it.

Please go see The Hoax!

Ben Greenman is an editor at the New Yorker and the author of several books of fiction. His latest book, A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both, is just being published.

Previously: Fragments From 'Imus! The Musical'