Sunny Leone, to my great joy, was wearing shorts. White and high waist. That showcased her lovely legs nicely. And a nude off-the-shoulder top with ruffled sleeves. She tick-tocked carefully across the floor on stilettos to greet me. I was meeting her at the Zee5 Studios in Andheri where the video-on-demand website was conducting interviews for its second season of her web series Karenjit Kaur: The Untold Story of Sunny Leone
I have met her before. And, from up close, Sunny is petite and beautiful. She’s warm and friendly. Also honest, funny and intelligent. Not outrageously sexy as people imagine. It’s a pity her films, in Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, tank at the box office or get panned by critics. I have not seen any of them. I prefer Sunny in the item songs she does for Bollywood. But I understand the web series has been well received. For she’s ready with the second season of Karenjit Kaur: The Untold Story of Sunny Leone. It premieres on September 18. The trailer fetched over five million views.
Sunny has been widely quoted as having said shooting the second season was cathartic. I asked, “Why was the first not cathartic?” She looked at me in wonder. “Cathartic? I have been misquoted,” she said. “It was not cathartic, not healing, at all. It was like opening a Pandora’s Box in which I had put my emotions, feelings, pain and hurt because I had to move on in life. It was not easy shooting that show. Actually, it was very difficult. I would cry a lot and my team would pick me up every single night. I went down this – I call it a rabbit hole (like in Alice’s Wonderland) from which it took me time to come out.”'
But, yes, it is true that the web series helped Sunny relive moments of her life and look at incidents with a new perspective. “What did you learn about yourself?” I asked. “It wasn’t so much about what I learned about myself,” she replied. “I think when you’re moving through life and making decisions that are best for you at that moment, you’re not always looking at the other side of the coin. How other people think and what they are feeling. And the other side of the coin was my family. So it was not easy for me. Or fun. And the one thing I learned from making this web series is that this is not something I want to relive again.”
I was curious to know, if she could, would Sunny roll back the camera on her life and change everything she did. “These are real stories,” she told me, “I made sure what I’m going to show the people is the truth. But, having seen what I’ve done, I don’t think there’s any child who wants to hurt their parents and their family. That was never my intention when I was taking decisions about my life, my career and the path I wanted to choose. Did I hurt them? Yes, I did. Does it hurt me that I hurt them? Yes, it does. But I love my life now. I love who I have become. I have a normal life and beautiful family. Every decision I made has led me to today. And I would not change today for anything!”
For over ten years, Sunny has been the most Googled Indian celebrity. More than even Narendra Modi and Salman Khan. And that’s saying a lot. “Why,” I asked her, “is it because of your popularity, people’s curiosity for what you were, their acceptance of who you are, or something else?” Sunny told me, “I see it as a bit of everything you just said. I got Google Analytics of myself and some other people and where I stand on the graph and where they stand is unbelievable. Is it just men? Or a group of people looking for certain material? Maybe that existed five, six, seven years ago. Today, I’m not sure the same philosophy applies. I have the most amazing digital team. They are so good at creating new content – you know, all the different things my fans out there see about me? And that gives me huge traction. I’m a step ahead of other people.” People have been wondering why Sunny came out with Karenjit Kaur – her untold story in biopic form. “Is it because being a mother has changed you and you want to show your daughter Nisha, and twins Asher and Noah, what your life was all about?” I asked her. “Maybe I wouldn’t want them to watch this web series!” she laughed in amusement. “My daughter is two. And she has no concept of cameras or TV shows and celebrities. She’s too young. The boys are infants. They don’t know anything. It will be time before they figure out what I do. But I don’t see it the way somebody else might see it now. Like, what am I going to say to them about my past and who I am? I have no answer for anybody. I’m going to be as honest as possible depending upon their ages and what they can mentally handle hearing or what they can comprehend. If my daughter is six and is going to be asking me about my work, my answer is going to be different versus if she’s 13 or 16 or 18. It’s going to be completely different.”
I admire the fact that she is a proud mother. That her three kids have changed everything about Sunny. “This is the most amazing time of my life ever,” she gushed reaching for her phone to show me pictures of Nisha, Asher and Noah. “People want to know why I came here. And what is it Bollywood gave me that I could not get in the West. I tell them – my daughter! If I had not come here, I don’t know if our paths would have crossed. She’s the most amazing thing Bollywood and India gave me. And my fans! They are my biggest gift. They have supported me through all the things I did that were not great and through all the films that were horrible. And they are still supporting me whether I’m successful or not. I think my fans are absolutely amazing.”
Sunny, you know, sensationally entered Bollywood through Bigg Boss in 2011 after Mahesh Bhatt went into the house and offered her a role in Jism 2. Now I asked her, “Another season of the TV reality series is about to begin. What advice do you have for Bigg Boss participants?” Sunny thought for a moment, then said, “What I learned from the reality show is that it’s hard to hide who you really are. You have no access to the outside world, to the media, your family and friends, you’re literally put in a box and are trying to be somebody else or play some weird game that most of the time doesn’t work out. My advice to them would be, there’s a reason why you’re on the show, it’s because you’re interesting in some way. So just be yourself. Try not to think you should change who you are.”
Karenjit Kaur: The Untold Story of Sunny Leone premieres on Tuesday. I don’t know if the web series ends or there will be another season. But I wanted to know if there was some message Sunny was trying to give out. “Like a moral?” she asked me. “If there’s anything someone can take from here, it’s my decision to follow my dreams and make my own life and career choices. Do what you want. Keep doing what you love. As long as you’re not cheating someone, not stealing or physically hurting anyone, if you’re just following your passions in life, then you should go for it. Don’t follow my path! Create your own destiny. I think India is one of the most amazing countries in the world right now. You can literally, as a young adult, take your idea and make it huge. The point is to never give up and let your dream fall by the wayside. Keep moving forward. It doesn’t matter if you have no money. If you have an idea, somebody who’s got the money is going to believe in your idea and say – ‘Yes, I want to back you up.’ My God, I got goosebumps just saying that! I’m not joking – look!” I looked, because Sunny Leone was pointing out her million dollar legs to me.