Actress Sunny Leone has become one of the most famous Indo-Canadians after her success in Bollywood but she remains a deeply divisive figure in her hometown, where many refused to even talk about her for a new documentary film on her life.
Born as Karenjit Kaur Vohra in the small town of Sarnia in the Canadian province of Ontario 35 years ago, Leone finds the community in her hometown unwilling to welcome her back.
That’s because the girl who was sent to a Khalsa summer camp by her parents went on to gain prominence as a Penthouse Pet and then as a porn star. This is made clear in the documentary “Mostly Sunny”, directed by noted Toronto-based filmmaker Dilip Mehta, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
While Leone may have found acceptance among many Indians, like those who invite her to perform at weddings, she remains “ostracised” by Sarnia’s Indo-Canadian community, Mehta told Hindustan Times.
When Mehta sent a camera unit to the gurdwara she worshipped at when young, its management called the police. And friends and relatives of her parents refused to discuss her, especially her choice of entering the adult film industry.
Mehta was first offered the project in 2013. But he felt “uncomfortable” about the project in the wake of the gruesome gang-rape in Delhi and almost dropped it. Curiously enough, his elder sister, Deepa Mehta’s latest feature, “Anatomy Of Violence”, a dramatisation of that brutal gang-rape and murder is also premiering at TIFF.
Later, Mehta met Leone in Mumbai and decided to proceed. Filming wrapped late last year and the final shoot was in Sarnia, as Leone acted as a guide to landmarks of her childhood, without interacting with anyone from that period.
Mehta shot in the places Leone and her husband made their homes – Mumbai and Los Angeles.
What Mehta discovered in the actress was a “smart” person in the sense of managing her career and unapologetic about the choices she’s made. That savvy comes across in her saying her legacy would be to be remembered as someone who was “good” at “turning a dime into a dollar”.
Also featured is the controversy over whether giving a former porn actor star status in India was feeding into the country’s rape culture. While Leone lives up to the title of the film through the majority of its running time, this is the only point at which she loses her cool, while denying those charges.
The documentary has already found an international distributor and is likely to be released this winter, though Mehta said an earlier screening in India is being planned.