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.