On the contrary

There’s Something About Sunny

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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Why Sunny Leone is doing so well in Bollywood
Consider tweets done in chronological order some days ago by the Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi. There is one on Arvind Kejriwal being a horse trader. This is followed by one on the BJP’s co-option of Ambedkar and another on the Shiv Sena’s communalism. After these is a joke ridiculing the Government’s action against Greenpeace and then something on crushing the adventurism of J&K separatists. So far, so good. And then, suddenly, in a strange departure, Singhvi tells his 32,000 followers, ‘V shd be careful that western rejects like sunny leone are not allowed to epitomise indian culture or acquire the status of a Bollywood icon’. From political discourse, there is suddenly an unwarranted personal attack. But for someone who is such a stickler for Indian culture, you can’t help notice that the profile photo that Singhvi has on his Twitter account is of him shaking hands with US President Barack Obama. It must be a couple of months old, from the time Obama came visiting India. He might have an issue with ‘western rejects’, but kowtowing to the West seems to be a sign of personal pride.

The object of Singhvi’s derision— Sunny Leone—meanwhile is already exactly what he is cautioning the country against. She is a Bollywood icon. Her latest movie Ek Paheli Leela, according to websites that track box office collections, has earned more over its first weekend than Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! and NH10, two recent movies lauded by critics and featuring popular A-list Bollywood stars. So here’s the question that Singhvi should be meditating over: if so many Indians are in thrall of Sunny Leone, is she infringing Indian culture or merely catering to it? And why not?

Sunny Leone is a great Indian male fantasy multiplied by two—a foreigner who is also an Indian; someone whose porn films he has thoroughly enjoyed, but who, when she acts in Bollywood movies, is just sufficiently revealing and modest to leave enough room for his imagination. There is no mystery to her porn movies having such an overwhelming audience in India and her Bollywood movies doing so well—both complement and fuel each other, perfectly in tune with the schizophrenia of the Indian man’s outlook on women.

It is a market that Sunny Leone has understood well. Those who read interviews that she gives in India expecting to get details about her life as a porn actress are almost always disappointed. It is a subject on which there is rarely anything said in detail, thanks to careful image management, even though her following comes from her being a porn actress. It is why she could make such an easy switchover from being a participant in a reality show to a successful Bollywood actress who now gets movies that revolve around her character, something rare even for leading heroines.

It is a transition that befuddles people like Singhvi. Otherwise, why use labels like ‘western rejects’ that mean nothing? What they really want to say is that a porn actress shouldn’t find mainstream acceptance, but it would be hard to make a case for that because it is just a prejudice and not an argument.