Sunny Leone lies spread-eagled on a giant bed in the centre of a shadowy room, eyes closed, lips parted, writhing sensuously...
Riding high on the success of Ragini MMS 2
, Sunny Leone has come a long way from her Bigg Boss days. What she still retains is her honesty and belief in her work.
We revisit an interview we did in 2011 with the adult entertainment actor-turned-Bollywood star.
The video pauses abruptly as a window pops up. 'Sunny Leone
calling' informs Skype politely. Heart hammering, I answer. With video. Sunny Leone fills the screen. Her hair is tied back with a dark blue ribbon but strands frame her pretty face. She doesn't look like she has any make-up on, just a hint of lip gloss. She looks vulnerable, almost shy. Unfortunately, she is completed clothed in a white T-shirt - there's not even a hint of cleavage. "Glad we could do this again," she says.
The last time we did this (the interview, I mean), we hit it off so well that we went on for an hour. Or maybe I just had too many questions. She is, after all, the first American porn star to have become a household name in India after she participated in the fifth season of Bigg Boss last year. "Doing that show was the best decision, ever! And I never in a million years thought that I would be in a Bollywood movie," she says. At the time of our chat, she's in Manhattan, visiting family and putting her feet up after a 50-day, three-country filming schedule for Jism 2, Pooja Bhatt's new erotic thriller. Previously, I had let her chatter on and on, scribbling at top speed till Daniel, her husband, business partner and co-star in some of her adult movies, interrupted. I pleaded for a second chance. Any chance. "OK", said Daniel. "But 30 minutes is all you get."
Interviewing a porn star is nothing like interviewing your average Bollywood actor. I mean, just what do you open with? It's great to talk to you? You were so good in that threesome in Virtual Vivid Girl Sunny? "I've never spoken to a porn star before." "Relax. I'm human," she says. We laugh. Sunny Leone
belongs closer to home that we ever imagined. Her father was a mechanical engineer who was born in Tibet, raised in Delhi and who migrated to Canada. His daughter, Karenjit Kaur Vohra, was born in May 1981 and wouldn't be known as Sunny Leone till 20 years later. It was a normal, happy childhood, Leone insists, filled with lots of soccer and hockey games, piano classes, camping trips every summer weekend and yes, Bollywood movies. "My brother and I used to love watching Hindi films!" she says excitedly. To keep in touch with their Sikh roots, the Vohra kids were taken to the gurudwara every Sunday; they were kept up to date with Indian news; and Sunday through Thursday, all they were allowed to eat was Indian food. "Friday and Saturday were American nights when we ate pizza or pasta or something," says Leone.
She'd always had boyfriends, even as a teenager. Then, somewhere along the way, Leone discovered that she was bisexual. "I was in my teens and didn't even know what the word meant at that age," she says. "I just... liked girls, you know." The first seven years in the adult entertainment industry, Leone did lesbian scenes exclusively before having sex with a man for the first time on camera in 2007. The man was her former fiancé and Playboy vice-president Matt Erickson. The movie was called Sunny Loves Matt. "I just wanted it to be with someone I had sexual chemistry with," she explains. India Connections
"I do have some family here in India and they didn't know about my career in the adult entertainment industry till it was splashed all over the papers here! A couple of cousins who knew who I was were very supportive (I am not allowed to say who they are because they'll get into trouble!) But yes, my family here was very shocked when they found out. I am still working on trying to get that relationship back to what it was."
Which brings us to the point: just what the heck is a soni Punjabi kudi like her doing herping and derping in the big bad world of porn? "Well, first of all, it's not bad in any way," comes quick response. "It's a form of expression. A lot of worse things happen in other industries that would never happen in mine. In fact, being a woman is the most powerful thing to be in the adult entertainment industry. She dictates how each day functions. If it wasn't for that, I wouldn't be talking to you today."
Leone doesn't like the word 'porn'. She prefers 'adult entertainment'. She was modelling part-time while studying to be a pediatric nurse at 20 when her agent sent off some of her pictures to Penthouse. Before she knew it, she had won Penthouse Pet of the Year and $100,000. "It was crazy! They chose me from among 21 other girls!" she says. This is when she decided to take the wraps off her new career. On a lazy Sunday evening, she broke the news to her Sikh parents.
"I just sat them down and told them what had happened and my mom didn't know what it meant at first; Dad understood a lot faster." They didn't like it, but realised that there was nothing they could do to convince her out of it. "I think parents who truly love their children understand that they are adults and there is a mutual respect once the kids grow up," says Leone. Her brother, who works as a chef in a restaurant in California, wasn't thrilled either but respected her decision. "We are as close as we were before, if not more," she says.
She was on a roll then, living what she describes was the best point of her professional life (till now, obviously). She signed a three-year contract with Vivid Entertainment, one of America's largest adult entertainment production companies, well-known for high-production values, exotic locations and professional lighting and cinematography. Over the next five years, Sunny Leone went from being just another porn star to launching her own production company, Sun Lust Pictures, under which she produced, wrote and directed her own brand of adult movies (39 so far).
She reportedly charges more than $1 million per film and earns a steady income via her pay-per-day website, SunnyLeone.com on which she also sells erotic lingerie and sex toys apart from videos. She is also more creative than most other porn stars: For $600, Leone will shoot a custom video of herself using a sex toy. She will say your name in the video and ship you the toy and the clothes she wore along with the video itself. Shedding the porn tag
"I don't really understand the meaning of 'shedding' something. It's not a stigma to me. I am who I am and I can't change my past. If I really cared about what people thought of me, I wouldn't be in the position I am in right now. When people judge me, they also judge themselves."
After ten years, porn comes naturally to Leone. It's just a job like any other and extremely professional, she reveals. If you were acting in an adult movie with Leone (you wish!), you MUST: 1) test clean for STDs before every single shoot 2) be a fanatic about your personal hygiene 3) be able to climax on the director's command. No, seriously. "And that's it," laughs Leone. "It's a lot of fun and very light-hearted on the sets. No one goes out drinking afterwards, they just go home to their wives, their girlfriends, their boyfriends, their dogs... whoever it is they're going home to. A lot of people think it's some crazy wild wild West industry. That's definitely not the case."
In 2007, Sunny Leone fell in love. For the second time. Hard. The man was Daniel Weber, a lead guitarist with a rock and blues band called The Disparrows. She was reluctant at first, then gave in after a six-week pursuit full of flowers and candy. They got married in 2008. Does Daniel squirm when he watches his wife on screen? "Well, he's also my manager, so he's very professional," laughs Leone. "But then, I don't work with any other men at all, I just shoot with him. So it's not really awkward."
Daniel has been instrumental in getting Leone to where she is today. He was the one who brokered Bigg Boss, negotiated with the Bhatt camp for Jism 2, and helped Leone land her next Bollywood venture, Ekta Kapoor's Ragini MMS 2. "I thought India had a really conservative culture; I had no interest in working there. I told Daniel, 'The public's going to hate me. The fans are... well, there aren't going to be any fans there!' Where I lived, I didn't have to think about people not accepting who I was - everybody already did."
Leone spent six weeks in the Bigg Boss house and charmed everyone with her mix of American-accented Hindi and English. She was everyone's friend. At one point during her stint in the house, she turns to the camera and says: 'Main achchi ladki hoon. Sabki friend hoon. Mera dil saaf hai
.' She smiles but there's a pleading note in her voice. And in that moment, away from the in-your-face world of hardcore porn, her world, Sunny Leone
looks more vulnerable than she has ever looked before in any gangbang scene she has performed.
Shooting for Jism 2 was Leone's first time on the sets of a Hindi movie. "What I found really interesting about being on the set was the number of people. There would be like, 100 or 200 people there and that was something I had never seen before! On an adult film set, it's mostly just the actors, the make-up people, the director and the cameraperson. Also, acting is hard. There's like, a million tiny things: turn around, scream at this person, say it with love in your eyes and don't blink when you have a close-up, say your lines, don't blink again - OK, So I'm not going to blink, I'm going to be a non-blinking machine... - and now smile, not actually, but smile with your eyes!" Sunny Leone sounds exhausted. "I have a different appreciation for movies now."
When she was 20, she declared in an interview that she was ready to retire, have kids and settle down by the time she was 30. Now, it looks like she's just getting started. "I just know that right now, I'm really focused on Bollywood. I haven't been shooting anything in adult at all since Bigg Boss. But I do have fans in America as well, you know? (Okay, maybe not as many as in India!) and I can't abandon them all of a sudden. So I'm not sure in which direction I'm headed. I go by my gut feeling, so if things work out, they do; if they don't, they don't. It's the try again philosophy. It's your innate human ability to survive."
Our thirty minutes are up but Sunny Leone is such a chatterbox that she doesn't seem to want to stop. I don't mind. Simply listening to her earnest, bubbly voice coming all the way from Manhattan is a joy. She doesn't look like a porn star. She looks like an excited schoolgirl who has just been made class monitor. I minimise the Skype window and the video comes back to life. Sunny Leone is in the throes of a massive orgasm. Her back is arched, her toes are curled. I can't resist it. "I just saw you come on your site," I blurt out. Leone smiles, her expression halfway between amused and embarrassed. "Thank you," she says, ever the professional. "I really appreciate it."
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