Sunny Leone wows web over grilling about porn past

Picture of Sonny Leone Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Leone denied there was a link between her mainstream acting roles and India becoming the world's number one porn consuming nation

A Bollywood actress has a new film coming out so she appears on TV to be questioned by one of India's leading interviewers. What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty it seems, when the interviewee is Sunny Leone, the Canadian-born former porn star who is a hugely controversial figure in India, where for the past few years she has been the most Googled person in the country.

But in this case the recipient of the bad publicity was not Leone - who has previously faced campaigns demanding she leave India.

Instead it was the veteran interviewer, Bhupendra Chaubey, who has been feeling the heat after a social media backlash for an interview on his CNN-IBN's talk show, The Hot Seat, which many commentators saw as "misogynistic". Leone, meanwhile, seems to have won admiration for the calm and dignified way she dealt with his questions. Such has been the response that a video of Leone, expressing her gratitude for the support she has received, was viewed more than 200,000 times in the first hour after it was posted on Facebook.

The interview kicked off with Chaubey asking Leone what her biggest regret was - a question widely interpreted as a cue for the actress to apologise for her porn past. When she answered that it was not reaching her mother in time before she died, Chaubey asked the question again, making it clear what he really wanted her to talk about. And for many viewers things went downhill from there.

"What a cringe-worthy interview!! Couldn't watch more than a few minutes of it. Well done to Sunny Leone for maintaining a calm composure. I seriously, personally, HATE people who are always on their high horse, as they have this false belief of thinking and believing that they are 'superior' to others", posted one Facebook user. "Sunny Leone is left looking like a mature and sensible human being. I'm not endorsing her career choices or lifestyle choices, but it looks like she didn't let her past condition her mind", said another.

Later in the interview Chaubey asked: "In the last four years, according to statistics which have been put up by Porn Hub, since you have come into the national mainstream cinema, the number of people watching porn in India have also, in a proportionate manner, increased substantially to a degree that we are the largest consumer of porn. Is there any correlation?"

No Leone said, there was not.

Chaubey said there was a perception among some Indians that simply watching a Sunny Leone film could corrupt a person. "I am thinking am I being morally corrupted if I am interviewing you?" he asked.

"I can leave if you want me to," she responded coolly

The furious Twitter response to the interview was led by a series of Bollywood actors.

Image copyright Twitter/Alia Bhatt
Image copyright Twitter/Dia Mirza
Image copyright Twitter/Rishi Kapoor

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Social media humourist Ramesh Srivats tweeted to his 476,000 followers: "Just saw a TV interview featuring a morally depraved person who is a threat to all decent values. And Sunny Leone."

So did Chaubey really overstep the mark in the way his critics allege? Does the generally negative reaction to his line of questioning signify a shift in attitudes to women in Indian society?

In his defence, Chaubey wrote in his blog that he did not intend to be judgmental but had simply tried to do "my job of asking questions". He said he was simply raising the issues which some Indians have with Leone and her past - views that were not necessarily his own.

"My point is, the moralists in this country can have any take on anyone. I most certainly wasn't aiming to be a moralist", he wrote.

Image copyright Twitter/Bhupendra Chaubey

He also retweeted a comment by a fellow journalist complimenting him on the way he had handled the interview.

Leone - whose real name is Karenjit Kaur Vohra - had a hugely successful career in porn in the US. But even before she announced her retirement from adult films in 2013, she had begun building an alternative career as a mainstream entertainer in India. In 2011 she appeared in the Indian version of Big Brother. This became a launching pad to mainstream Bollywood success.

Blog by Nooshin Soluch

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