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Film Review – Mostly Sunny: Reinventing Sunny LeoneLet me tell you a surreal fairy tale. Once upon a time there was a young Indian-Canadian porn star who decided to reinvent herself and see if she could make it in Bollywood, India’s vaulted film industry where heroines are chaste and where even a kiss is forbidden. This, after her nude images and adult videos are floating all over the Internet.
She could and she did.
Not only did they accept Sonny Leone, real name Karanjit Kaur Vohra, but they loved her! Sunny currently has 1160,000 Twitter followers, 17,780,000 Facebook Likes and 34,200,000 Youtube followers – and counting. As she herself exclaims, “It’s insane!” and points out that “a freaking porn star” is now being inundated with all sorts of film and TV offers – and even invited to perform at Indian wedding celebrations! She’s starred in Bigg Boss, which has over 50 million viewers, and she’s starred in music videos and movies. Indian audiences have certainly embraced her.
Now Sunny Leone is the subject of a documentary by noted photojournalist and director Dilip Mehta (brother of filmmaker Deepa Mehta) and “mostly Sunny’ opened at the Toronto Film Festival. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that this movie is neither lightweight fluff nor heavy material – it holds your interest and gives you an unvarnished look at Sunny’s life and the choices she made. The film jumps between her three homes in Ontario, Canada, California in the US and Bombay, India. It’s a fascinating tale of re-invention, of acceptance in unlikely places and also about the common sense yet pragmatic woman who manages to pull it off.
Karanjit, who just walked into the adult film industry at 19, was happy with the big checks and even went on to become Penthouse Pet of the Year. Although she had grown up in the small town of Sarna in Ontario in the midst of a small conservative Sikh community, she managed to keep her two lives completely separate. One day she appeared on the Howard Stern show and her cover was blown. The entire community disowned her and her family.
Even for the shooting of this documentary, no neighbor would come forward, and the gurudwara even called up the police. Says Sunny, “Because of my lifestyle, they cannot get past it mentally.” The divide is still there within the family, and she recalls that over the years she has received hatemail, with many people lashing out, calling her “a disgrace to Indians, to our religion and to our culture.”While Sunny’s parents were upset with her life decisions, her father, an engineer, told her, “You made this decision, now own it.” The family had moved to the West Coast and Sunny was on a trajectory in the adult world. How she met her husband, side-tracked into India and Bollywood and hit a bonanza is the story of ‘Mostly Sunny’. Indeed, no matter the tensions with her family, the losses on the personal side and other ups and downs, Sunny has a typically sunny view of her life: “I have a wonderful, beautiful life.”
One noteworthy point is that in India, supposed to be prudish and traditional, many people have been open to her new lifestyle while being non-judgemental about her old one. In the documentary, you hear from taxi drivers to crew members who say, “She is doing her work, just as we are doing our work.” What certainly helps is that she has a family life with Daniel Weber, her husband who is constantly with her, and her brother (who has never been judgmental) and her two dogs back in CA. As Weber puts it, “Sunny is a brand. Karen is my wife.”
Bollywood has also changed over the years – with no clear-cut black and white but a lot of gray. Heroines dress scantily, are independent and do not always have traditional moral compasses – they also often perform the raucous sexy number which in the old days would have been Helen’s domain.
Sunny is unapologetic about her past, and she does have detractors in India too, who point to the fact that her adult videos are still available and blame her for the effect these have on women’s issues. Sunny refuses to accept that – in the movie while talking about the impact of the Internet, she also says, “ Rape was created before I was created.”
Besides capturing the story of Sunny’s life, ‘Mostly Sunny’ also captures the colors and flavors of Bombay – always kinetic and chaotic. One of the surreal aspects is that to get Sunny’s glittering costumes done, her assistant Hitesh must travel to tailors in the chawls, past piles of garbage on the street and red chilies drying on the roof. Sequins, gold brocade and fancy outfits seem all mixed up with the tawdry, packed streets of the metropolis and the clanging, dusty trains.
Her two avatars exist side by side in India: Go on the Internet and it’s the open sesame to her official website with hundreds of explicit desi porn videos. And yet she’s also the Bollywood sensation who plays dancers and princesses, shooting in ornate palaces in Rajasthan and the famous Mehboob Studios. As she says, “I love pretending, being someone I’m not.” She’s certainly having her cake and eating it too – playing according to her own rules!
Her philosophy of life is plastered on her Twitter account: ” Only GOD will Judge! life is short – lets make the most of it!”
“Mostly Sunny” can be seen on iTunes/VOD