A beloved Bollywood actress who couldn't get her foot in the door until her legs had grown long enough, Shilpa Shetty was rejected by a modeling company when she was 15 because she was only 5'7". It didn't take long, however, for the charismatic beauty to sprout up a few more inches and begin her career in her native India. Her first movie role came in 1993 when she was just 17 years old, playing a girl whose family is caught in a web of deceit in Baazigar, a film inspired by A Kiss Before Dying. The movie was a huge hit, and Shetty received major praise for her performance, earning a Filmfare nomination for Best New Comer.
The film's success and Shetty's talent and charm made sure she had no trouble being cast in new movies, but unfortunately, the young actress found herself almost immediately stuck in a string of flops. Even after she won Best Supporting Actress at the Zee Gold Bollywood Awards for 1998's Pardesi Babu, the film remained a dud with audiences. Her performance of the song "Main Aayi Hoon U.P. Bihar Lootne" during a guest appearance in 1999's blockbuster Shool became a hit, but Shetty's life as an actress remained stymied until a role came along the next year and revolutionized her career. She took the lead in a romantic drama called Dhadkan, playing a girl who is forced into a loveless marriage when her parents don't approve of the poor boy she falls in love with. Critics and audiences were in love with Shetty and impressed with her acting ability, and she won Best Actress at the International Indian Film Awards.
With a new profile, Shetty continued to act in various projects, some more successful than others, until 2004 when the actress wowed viewers again with a hard-hitting, emotional role. Playing an HIV-positive career woman in Phir Milenge, Shetty blew critics away with her sensitive portrayal of a woman facing such a common but controversial issue. Shetty's status as a top-tier Bollywood actress was cemented, and she won a Giant International Award for her performance. She soon followed up this success with roles in 2005's Khamoshh and Dus. In 2007, Shetty joined the cast of the British reality series Celebrity Big Brother, in which a group of famous people live in a house together, followed by cameras 24 hours a day. Each week, viewers vote to decide which member of the house is least popular, and that housemate leaves, whittling the population of the house down until the single most popular cast member remains and is declared the winner. Shetty was the housemate who took home that coveted title, though despite winning, she weathered some difficulty as during filming, housemate Jade Goody barraged Shetty with what many felt were racist remarks. Goody's behavior caused a major upset, though Shetty was praised for the dignity with which she handled herself.
Early in her career, Shetty began utilizing her star status to gain attention for charity organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. She also put tremendous efforts into promoting HIV/AIDS education -- an activity that inadvertently placed her at the center of a major controversy when, at a 2007 AIDS awareness event, co-presenter Richard Gere took Shetty in his arms and planted several kisses on her face in what both later said was a playful attempt to entertain the crowd. Extreme conservatives in India were outraged by the incident, calling it obscene and going so far as to burn effigies of Gere and Shetty and demand their appearances in court.