Judging Sunny Leone

In the run-up to the promotion of her upcoming adult comedy, Sunny Leone appeared in two interviews on two channels, . Here’s what happened next

File photo. Actress Sunny Leone at the launch of photographer Dabboo Ratnani’s 2016 calendar in Mumbai. Photo: AFP

File photo. Actress Sunny Leone at the launch of photographer Dabboo Ratnani’s 2016 calendar in Mumbai. Photo: AFP

The adult comedy Mastizaade starring Sunny Leone, Tusshar Kapoor and Vir Das is being released on Friday. Now I’ve seen the trailer and commented on it here and can only imagine how vile a two-hour version of the two-minute trailer will be. But that’s beside the point. Much like any other film, the stars of the film were out promoting it the week prior to the release by giving interviews and appearing at the altar of Bigg Boss.

Usually you see the interviews of actors promoting their films only on the Bollywood shows of various news channels. Not this time, though. This time, and let’s keep in mind this is not one of Bollywood’s superstars who journalists hanker to interview, Sunny Leone was interviewed on the 30-minute interview show, The Hot Seat With Bhupendra Chaubey on CNN-IBN. Following which she was interviewed on Walk The Talk on NDTV 24X7 by Shekhar Gupta. I saw both the interviews. I am still reeling from the misogyny and regressiveness on display in the former, which was thankfully salvaged by the latter.

Now first off, if you’ve been living under a rock, Sunny Leone is a porn star of Indian origin, whose original name is Karenjit Kaur Vohra. Four years back she was part of Bigg Boss and has ever since become a household name in India and is now a Bollywood actress and the most googled person out of India. That editors and mainline news channels are interested in interviewing her on their main interview shows, is testament to her new status as a newsmaker. And also to the fact that all media houses know that by carrying an interview of Sunny Leone, they’re ensuring that they get watched for certain.

The question is, why would you call a person who is not a criminal or a bigot onto your interview show and proceed to insult and humiliate them? It’s a question I would love to ask Chaubey of CNN IBN. I actually can’t remember the last time, I have seen someone be as supercilious, judgmental and sexist as an interviewer. Here are some of his questions:

Do you get upset by the negative comments which appear about you?

There seem to be lots of inhibitions of stars to work with you. How do you feel about that?

So you would want to work with Aamir but Aamir would not want to work with you. How do you feel about that? (Now Chaubey doesn’t know this, it’s based on conjecture.)

Do you not get affected by the fact that your past, as a “porn queen”, will continue to haunt you or hold you back?

If I was to turn the clock back would you still do what you did? 

Pardon me if I’m being offensive, but how many people would aspire to be a porn star?

Some people are wondering whether Sunny Leone becoming a brand ambassador is a dangerous thing for India.

On social media, many Indian married women who look at Sunny Leone as a threat and think she’ll take away their husbands. You don’t care about all this? 

The clincher though was, “I’m wondering whether I’m being morally corrupted because I’m speaking to you”. Which was the only moment when Sunny Leone seemed to be a little short and told him very politely that he could leave if he thought so.

Of course to focus on his questions, you had to get past Chaubey’s expressions and mannerisms. All questions were posed with a superciliousness smile and an air of superiority.

I want to see Chaubey speak to Ekta Kapoor, who’s produced Kya Kool Hai Hum 3, or Pritish Nandy, producer of Masitizaade, the way he spoke to Sunny Leone. It will never happen. Forget Nandy and Kapoor, will Chaubey ever ask a Tabu or Karishma Kapoor or Madhuri Dixit whether they’re ashamed of their early films where they kissed actors, gyrated and gesticulated with gay abandon and dressed as garishly as possible. No. Why? Because this was power play at its best. Chaubey had a young woman who he knew wouldn’t get up and leave his studio because she needed to promote her first major Bollywood film. And because it seems that Chaubey thinks he’s better than a porn star.

That Leone answered each question politely, logically and pointed out that most of what he was asking was not based on fact, but was hypothetical—such as how she’d feel if Aamir refused a film with her—is commendable. It takes great confidence and patience to not have either refused to carry on with the interview or ticked off Chaubey. She sat till the end of the interview, smilingly answering his increasingly offensive questions, although towards the end the discomfiture was visible on her face.

I didn’t really understand the point of this interview. Was Chaubey trying to show he was morally and ethically superior to a “porn queen” as he referred to her? Was he trying to insult her?

As Leone explained, no one forced her to work in the porn industry. She did so because she wanted to earn and look after her family. It’s the same reason why a lot of editors and journalists keep working at their respective media houses.

In absolute contrast was Shekhar Gupta’s interview of Leone on NDTV 24X7. He started off by complimenting her and telling her how she should realise that she’s in the big league going by the celebrities he’s interviewed before her. He asked her to relate her story of how she got into porn and transitioned to acting in India. Most importantly, he let her speak. And when he spoke, he spoke the way he would to any other actor—with deference, curiosity and friendliness. He asked her how the geeky kid which she described herself as made her way into Penthousemagazine. How her screen name was chosen, whether pornography is about sex or about mechanics? When he asked her about her career in porn films it was in the same manner in which he’s asked Tabu or Shah Rukh Khan about their earlier, very suspect films. There was a camaraderie, friendliness and lack of prejudice to the interview which should be present in all interviews.

It isn’t about whether you are pro- or anti- porn. This is a woman who has lived life on her own terms, earned money through honest means, is unapologetic and upfront about her choices, and has managed to give herself an image makeover which is quite unbelievable. That she was a porn star who was born and brought up in Canada and has now relocated to India and become a household name as an actress in Bollywood and is soon to be a published author in a couple of months is highly commendable. All this before she’s even 35 years old. As both Chaubey and Gupta pointed out, whether we like it or not, the fact is that she is the most googled person in India. So when you call her for an interview, treat her with the same amount of respect you’d extend to other Bollywood stars or politicians, many of whom we know are steeped in corruption.

The judgment that was on display in the CNN IBN interview was utterly uncalled for and reeked of misogyny and misplaced moralising. But hats off to Leone for maintaining her poise and confidence through it all. After her performance on the Hot Seat…, if anything, she should be a role model for all women who are faced with sexism and misplaced male bravado.http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/Q7mICmqCInA3F0dpkMysYK/Judging-Sunny-Leone.html