TONGUE TIED

An Indian male journalist couldn’t handle a leading Bollywood actor’s pornographic past

Quartz india
Quartz india

Sunny Leone was working in the adult entertainment industry in the US when Bigg Boss, the Indian version of Big Brother, invited her on the show. Little did she know then that it would be her ticket to Bollywood.

In 2011, Leone accepted filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt’s offer and signed her first Bollywood film, Jism 2. She hasn’t looked back since. Today, Leone is one of the most bankable Bollywood stars. In her four-year career, she has acted in films across several Indian languages such as Kannada, Telugu and Hindi.

Her earnings and fame put her at the 45th place in Forbes India Magazine’s top 100 celebrity list in 2015. And she was the most searched person on Google in India in 2015— for the fourth consecutive year.

Yet, despite her various accomplishments in Bollywood and as a businesswoman, 34-year-old Leone was subjected to a rather humiliating interview by an Indian male journalist on CNN-IBN’s talk show, The Hot Seat.

 Leone has been candid and unapologetic about her career in the adult entertainment industry in North America. 

Bhupendra Chaubey, a veteran TV news anchor, spoke to Leone at Mumbai’s Mehboob Studio. The interview was part of the ongoing promotions of the Indian-origin Canadian actor’s upcoming adult comedy film, Mastizaade. But Chaubey hardly mentioned her new film or any of her other successful Bollywood films. Instead, he focused almost entirely on her earlier career as a porn actor.

Leone has been candid and unapologetic about her career in the adult entertainment industry in North America. And she was just the same even when sitting across from a moralistic Chaubey. During the 30-minute interview first aired on Jan. 15, the anchor found it hard to believe, even looking visibly perplexed, that she did not “regret” her career in porn.

Do you not sometimes get affected that your past, the past that you were a ‘porn queen’, will continue to haunt you? Or maybe it will continue to pull you back?

I wonder, and pardon me if I am being offensive here, how many people would think in terms of growing up to be a porn star?

He even found it hard to utter the word “porn.”

You would still do the kind of shoots, the kind of work you used to do, before you came into Bollywood?

Is your past now literally, figuratively a thing of the past now? Is that something that you think about? I began by asking you if you had any regrets, and you spoke about your mother, and if I was to turn the clock back, would you still do what you did?

Leone, admirably, remained calm throughout the interview—mostly smiling. She explained that she was proud of her work in the porn industry.

Everything that I have done in my life has led me to this seat. Everything is a stepping stone… I met an agent, and when I saw these photos of these women, I didn’t think it is vulgar. I didn’t think it is wrong. I thought it was beautiful and sexy. They are free, and they are doing what they want to do.

Chaubey, constantly interrupting Leone to make his own point, dug out every possible negative statement or sentiment mentioning her.

Atul Anjan, who happens to be a member of parliament of the CPI, has consistently gone on record, and mind you, he is not the only one, the way he holds you responsible for corrupting Indian minds, Indian morality. When these kinds of comments are made, how do you react?

Leone, on the other hand, handled the questions deftly—and politely. “I am waiting for Obama to make a speech about me,” she joked.

“You think that Aamir Khan would ever work with you?” Chaubey asked Leone next—a question she rightly pointed out must be asked of the actor.

“Would you want to work with Aamir Khan?” he went on. She said yes.

“So you would like to work with Aamir Khan but Aamir Khan wouldn’t want to work with you? How would that reflect on you then?” he probed.

 Chaubey even sought to put the burden of India’s obsession with porn on her.  

And there was still no stopping Chaubey. “There are some who believe that if Sunny Leone is becoming a brand ambassador of sorts of this new India, then it is a very dangerous trend to have. There are many housewives, there are many Indian married women who look at Sunny Leone as a threat to their husbands. They believe their husbands are all going to be taken away by Sunny Leone,” he commented.

She replied: “Sorry, I don’t want your husbands at all. I have my own, I love him, and he is hot and sexy. He is very smart and very talented. Sorry, ladies.”

Calling her an “item” girl, Chaubey asked her whether she took acting as a serious profession—surely a question no other major Bollywood actor would be asked.

“There are some viewers of mine who are saying that your identity remains that of your past, which is your association with pornography, and porn stuff. They believe that you are not an actor, still not an actor, some are accusing you of lowering the level of the fine art of cinema. Is that a just criticism?”

“Do you believe… you have a body… is it your body that will take your everywhere?”

“Are you saying we will see movies of Sunny Leone in the future where Sunny will be dressed up from head to toe, in a saree, covered completely?” (“Yeah, of course,” she said.)

Chaubey even sought to put the burden of India’s obsession with porn on her. “Since you have come in the mainstream, the number of people who are watching porn in India has, in a proportionate manner, increased to the extent that we are now the largest consumer of porn. Is there any correlation?”

“I didn’t create that,” she laughed the question off.

Maybe Chaubey needs to look at how India’s internet and mobile penetration has increased in the last four years.

Then came Chaubey’s worst, as he said: “A lot of chatterati (sic) that takes place, you see a Sunny Leone film, and you get morally corrupted. I am wondering whether I am getting morally corrupted because I am interviewing you.”

A poised Leone merely said, “I can leave, if you want me to.” That seemingly made the host a bit panicky, and he said, “Not at all, not at all…”

Leone’s fans and celebrities alike have come out in support of her.

Soon after, Chaubey published a rebuttal of sorts on his blog, conceding the fact that he was obsessed with her past.

“The only reason why Sunny Leone… would have qualified to be on my show, is because it’s her past now evolving into her present, which is the story waiting to be told,” he wrote in the post.

Chaubey’s justification notwithstanding, the interview was a lesson in both how not to do it and how to—depending on which side you are.

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