Actor Sunny Leone is calm and collected in her approach to politics, controversies and films as she makes a cameo in Ragini MMS2, a web series, says Saimi Sattar
Dignity and poise, these are the two adjectives that come to mind when one mentions the name Sunny Leone. Adjectives that in our kind of social set-up would never be applicable to someone, who has been an adult film star. But this association started taking root when the actor appeared on an interview during which despite being talked down several times, she gracefully answered the questions and put forth her point without getting in the least unnerved. But this was not the lone instance where she came across as someone who could keep it all together. She did so when a web series, Karenjit Kaur, based on her life invited the ire of the Sikh community and also when people objected to her website which they said was corrupting the Indian culture.
When we meet her at a hotel, she raises her hand in mock horror and says, “Sunny and controversies! no,” before saying, “I am so happy that I kept it together. Each situation is very different. If there is something that is intertwined with violence, then I feel it is my job to speak up. If it is nonsensical, then I don’t think it is worth being given the dignity of a response and make them popular. I won’t give justification or more hits to their websites, news outlets, or Instagram because I know what my Insta post is worth.”
Sunny is in town to promote Ragini MMS 2, a web series where she makes a cameo. She had, earlier, in 2014, starred in an eponymously named film. “The biggest difference is that the role is a lot shorter,” she says with a laugh and adds, “When I shot the film I was so new. I did not know my head from my feet and my toes. I was basically flying from the seat of my pants and trying to figure out things. I have changed and evolved,” while her eyebrows keep on rising up as she makes a point. The segment that she acts in is like a short film which is a kick-off to the series.
Sunny, who made her Bollywood debut in 2012 with Jism 2, says, “There is a huge difference between a film and a digital show. In the latter, you are able to learn so much more about the characters, the story and the underlying issues. In a film we only touch them on the surface. But with a digital show, I love getting to know the characters. I love watching episode after episode and really liking one character or hating another. That is why we binge watch. Writing in digital shows is so much more intricate and layered. Something might be shown in episode 1 which is connected in episode 8. The character shifts are so subtly done through each episode. I was watching a film the other day and realised it is not the same.”
However, she does feel that the web content has ensured that the film industry and its people have evolved. “There is a need to do something different. There is a big shift in so many directions. The idea of creating the same content doesn’t appeal anymore and there is no formula. This is reflected in box office numbers. It is no longer true that a person, actor or producer is known for making amazing films and this will work. The consumers are so smart and we need to give them credit about the things that they want to consume,” she says and points out that the shift started happening for two-three years because some people who were a little bit more forward thinking took a chance.
Besides acting in films and web series, Sunny has also anchored the show, Splitsvilla. “You are being yourself. There is no script or lines. You are just having fun. The contestants write the story while Rannvijay (Singha), my co-host and I, just responded to it.”
However, before going mainstream, from 2001 to 2010, she was a part of the adult film industry in the US. So does she feel that her transition was easier in India? “I am a living proof that this country is very accepting. Hundred per cent. It is more of a matter of how you conduct yourself when you are in someone’s country. It is weird because people do not always think that and assume that US would be so. But it has its pockets and bubbles of very judgmental people. That is true for all countries,” she points out, dressed in black.
Over the years, Sunny feels that people have become more vocal and aware about their sexual rights. “It is apparent that people want a change where there are stricter laws and punishment. It has to just move from top down. It is that simple. Moreover, the focus is no longer on physical but also mental abuse like cyber bullying. We can definitely make a difference. So teaching young men and women about violence whether it is verbal and physical has to start at home,” she says.
Sunny has also been very vocal about child sexual abuse and when we asked her about it, her face registers a surprise that it is a question that we should even be discussing. “I don’t know who would think that it is right. There have to be stricter laws. Usually abusers are people that the child knows. And it is a mistake to think that predators differentiate between a boy or a girl. It is a very heavy subject and needs to be addressed collectively. We need to hear our children and notice the signs or even a change in behaviour,” says Sunny.
Talking of children naturally brings us to her adopting Nisha Kaur Weber, her daughter in 2017. “I have been wanting to adopt a child since I was a teenager. I knew I had so much love to offer that I wanted to do this. Every time I look at her, even for one second, I do not believe that she is not my blood. She is my heart and soul. She really is an angel. Compared to her brothers who are very naughty. She is so easy, intelligent, smart, fun and very sensitive,” says Sunny who also has two boys through surrogacy.
With 29.4 million followers on Instagram, Sunny finds social media as a great way to put out social messages, “or post silly things about yourself. What I love is that your fans now have direct access and can post comments. Most of them are nice and some not so nice. I’ve filtered out a lot of bad words and it is possible to do that,” she says.
Sunny also has an app on iPhone which she credits to her husband. “Over the last so many years, we tried and work out many digital outlets. Especially Daniel,” she laughs as her face lights up at his mention. She points out that he makes sure to connect to people, talk to them, attend every phone call and meeting as anyone might bring some interesting idea. “I hope a lot more people harness this as it is truly an amazing time. A lot of young actors and actresses should harness this content with digital media sources out there. You are missing out on so much,” she says.
With so much happening in the political space in India and USA, where she was born, talk turns towards it and how Hollywood is more political as compared to their Hindi film counterparts. “India is a different society, made of different religions and ways of life. Delhi is far-removed from a place which is perhaps just two hours away and might not even have electricity. People don’t want to hurt sentiments,” she says and adds that she believes that actors do not make the greatest people to be talking about politics. “Know your craft and leave it at that. The second that I hear someone saying something, even in America, I am like, I grew up watching you and I love you but after hearing that comment I don’t like you any more. The political divide in the US is unbelievable. We have a rule in our house that we don’t talk politics because we love our friends. They are family to us,” says Sunny.
Next up she is starring in a film called Coca Cola, which in the same horror genre as Ragini MMS2. She is starting a cosmetic and fragrance line. She has also started an interactive school in Mumbai six months ago.
Certainly, there is an aura of dignity and poise that moves with her.
Photo: Pankaj Kumar