By Pooja Pande
This is one of the very few scenes of Mostly Sunny — a documentary chronicling Sunny Leone’s rise to fame — which does not have the lady in the frame. In this scene, an arrogant man sitting in his perfectly air-conditioned corporate office doles out gyaan with the kind of nonchalant smugness painfully familiar to us women, mansplaining his self-professed genius and Sunny Leone, minus any self-awareness. (Much like that other self-professed genius Ram Gopal Varma mansplaining Sunny Leone in his recent painful-to-watch short Meri Beti Sunny Leone Banna Chahti Hai.).
The man in this Sunny-less scene is Raj Nayak, CEO, Colors TV, and in the interview, he is showcasing for the viewer his deadly insights into life, the universe, and everything, telling us how he decided to give the go-ahead in inviting “a porn star” into the Big Boss house, which soon became her entry into Bombay. “For some reason, the team got cold feet after signing her on… We were sitting in a creative meeting and I said, ‘So what if she’s a porn star?’ Who are we to judge anybody?’” Minutes later, Nayak proclaims that the show earned her “respectability”.
This is what I liked about Mostly Sunny — the ways in which it renders shameful the desperation of all those who — as Mrinalini Sharma, involved in filming Pink Lips, a Sunny Leone number for Hate Story 2 puts it later on in the film — “want a piece of her”. But those who cannot stop themselves from judging her.
Others in this department include a sprawled-on-his-couch coolth along the lines of, “The only person who can write the obituary of Sunny Leone is Sunny Leone herself” ; an ever-ready-to-be-interviewed Suhel Seth, who speaks of his “Brand Leone insights” like he’s the only who’s noticed them (Oh, Sunny speaks of her adoring husband and happy marriage in the same breath as her career in the adult entertainment business? How amazing, Mr Seth!); a foaming-at-the-mouth Kiran Bedi who dares you if you’ve seen “her YouTubes” before going onto proclaim Leone “worse than an animal”, pretty much responsible for the “rise of rapes”. Watching them pronounce their sermons from the mount gives you an understanding of what obscenity really looks like, much more than a million views on Pornhub ever could. They’re all different versions of Bhupendra Chaubey, the IBN news anchor who interviewed Leone and tried hard to demean her — he who was immortalised so fabulously as ‘Uncle’ by writer Jugal Mody.
Mostly Sunny directed by Dilip Mehta, is also very clever in probing this desperation deeper and laying bare the artifices of a society, and in particular, the Bollywood industry. It’s an industry where Leone is now a firm fixture, ever since a in an also-ran horror film sent her skyrocketing into the hall of fame — “I still have goosebumps when I think about it,” she says, in all seriousness. And you take her seriously, even though she’s referring to something called Baby Doll.
As the camera takes you onset and off, you see the “fake Rajasthani huts” being transported around on cue, the extras who sweat and cavort around Leone and live schizophrenic lives, mocking the very rules of a business they’d do anything to be part of. “It doesn’t matter if you learnt acting or dancing, or even martial arts to make it big here,” says one woman who, like the millions of others teeming in Bombay, dreams of stardom, “it all boils down to whether you are willing to ‘compro’ or not.” Sniggering in one breath, she follows it up matter of factly, “Oh, for sure, I’d do anything to be Sunny Leone.”
It is because she lives in this world of lights and glaring cameras that demand your masks be firmly on at all times that Sunny Leone seems naked, in its truest, I’d go so far as to say, purest sense. “I don’t give a shit”, she says, as Punjabi-forthright as they come; a final call on her detractors, all of them aching to fit her into the box that suits them and their world views.
Mostly Sunny is not without its fair share of flaws. The Sarnia, Canada segment — where Leone spent her childhood — is very weak, too conveniently crafted in the ‘origins of a legend’ phenomenon. And there is a complete disinterest in showcasing the hard work that Leone surely puts in — we simply do not get a glimpse of it, even something as obvious as say, a workout session.
But it’s the grip on the truths that explore questions of who’s the ‘real faker’ in a world that runs on money and money alone that make it a compelling watch. Like the mini-businesses she’s set rolling, which go ka-ching! The camera follows Hitesh Kapopara, her trusted costume man, as he trawls through the city’s shanties making sure “Sunny didi’s” gold bustier is ready on time, and takes us inside his home where his delighted mother shares, “Ever since he’s been working for her, things have been good.
There is one particular moment when the point of it all shines brightly and clearly, like gold. When she’s asked the future-gazing question of what she thinks she’ll tell her unborn kids about her life as a porn star, Leone tries to answer it by mumbling something about choices and decisions. And then she pauses. “I have no freaking idea what I’ll say to them,” she finally mouths.
And that’s when you can finally articulate it: She’s special, Leone, because she’s real. Yeh duniya, I tell you, is peetal. But Baby Doll, now she’s pure gold.
(Mostly Sunny; Documentary, 2016; Directed by Dilip Mehta; Streaming on Netflix.)
Delhi-based writer-editor Pooja Pande digs calling a spade a spade, even at the risk of being termed killjoy. Read more here.