Sunny Leone, former porn star, turns erotic fiction writer

Indian actress and former adult film actress Sunny Leone poses for a photograph during a promotional event for the Hindi film Ragini MMS 2 in Mumbai on late March 26, 2014. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Sunny Leone is the most searched for person on Google by Indians

"Sizzling stories by India's most desirable woman," twinkles the blurb on the smartphone screen, flashing an image of a smiling woman in a red dress.

The author is porn star turned Bollywood actress Karanjit Kaur, also known as Sunny Leone - the name that made her famous in the adult entertainment business in the US.

Last month, Juggernaut, a Delhi-based publication house, released Sweet Dreams, a collection of 12 erotic stories by Leone.

It is the first time an original short-fiction collection has been released on mobile phones in India.

Leone's stories are varied: one set in New York sees an Indian IT expert romping with an Indian stripper; in another a dutiful Indian woman has sex with her late husband's ghost.

"I would write on my laptop at all times, in Mumbai or in the quiet of my home in Los Angeles, or during time off on a Bollywood set and it took me four months to come up with the first draft," Leone tells the BBC.

Erotic romance was what Leone says was on her mind while writing the book.

"I've never written before; but I took up the offer from the publishers as a challenge and had a go," she says.

Leone can't recall reading as a child. Growing up in Canada to Punjabi Sikh parents, she recalls being into sports and photography.

The first erotic fiction she ever read was EL James's Fifty Shades of Grey on Kindle. "I remember reading and thinking, 'this is intense', and giggling."

Image caption Sweet Dreams is a collection of 12 erotic romantic stories by Leone

Indian authors and experts in the publishing business say Leone's erotic fiction has come at the right time in the market.

Ananth Padmanabhan, an erotic fiction author, says that India has also succumbed to the "bold erotic effect of 50 Shades of Grey" in the same way Harry Potter influenced fantasy across books and films.

"India has an appetite for erotic fiction despite moral policing and Leone's stories are part of that wave to titillate the market that wants more."

Chiki Sarkar, Juggernaut's publisher, says: "Erotica is one of the high-selling genres for e-books globally and we felt it would work for the smartphone as well."

Moreover, Leone has a massive fan following across India and on social media platforms.

"Leone has about 22 million followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, including many women who have all been enthusiastic about her foray into writing," says Ms Sarkar.

Most-searched star

Leone's own story is of an adult entertainment star who has become the most-searched person on Google by Indians.

In 2011, Indian television viewers were first introduced to Leone in the fifth season of the reality TV show, Bigg Boss.

The show, an Indian version of Celebrity Big Brother, had Leone, as a wild card entrant, bringing her closer to Indian television audiences who had until then known her as an American porn star of Indian origin.

Image caption Leone appeared in Bigg Boss, an Indian version of Celebrity Big Brother, in 2011
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Sunny Leone, left, had a successful career in the adult entertainment industry in the US

Leone dropped out from her studies in Canada when she was 18 to enter the adult entertainment business in the US.

She initially worked as an erotic model and later moved to the adult film business.

Leone recalls she was criticised by many Indians who condemned her job as an adult film star in the US.

"I was called every name in the book," she recalls, adding that she took her time to research about the popularity of Bigg Boss in India before deciding to participate in the show.

Bollywood calling

Since her Bigg Boss stint, her popularity has been soaring in India.

She has acted in 15 Hindi films, including erotic thrillers, adult comedies, racy entertainers, and a couple of glamorous cameos in south Indian films.

"I am a risk taker and since I was young I always would try as many things as possible to see what was comfortable to me."

She says entering the porn industry, or her acting career in Bollywood and her newly minted author role are all offers that she took on as challenges.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Leone has acted in many Bollywood films
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Some right-wing activists in India believe that Leone should not be welcomed in India

But her rising popularity has also brought criticism from India's moral police.

"I would say there are more important things than me or my job to fight over. Fight to better the plight of poor, naked children on our streets, make your cities cleaner else, plant trees," she says.

When a male TV anchor asked her some uncomfortable questions about her past in an interview in January, she remained calm and dignified.

Her responses won praise from social media users, while the anchor received criticism.

"It (her job as a porn star) just happened; I have no horror story to narrate and I am not ashamed of it. Everything that's happened since then has been only good," she tells the BBC.

As for the future, she has made a song with Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan for his upcoming film Raees. And she is also planning to release a range of perfumes called Lust by Sunny Leone.

"She is the epitome of a strong woman who is unapologetic about the decisions she has taken and choices that she has made in life," says Ms Sarkar.

Rosalyn D'Mello, author of an erotic memoir, says that "by not surrendering to predictable sermons about shame and women's sexuality, Leone challenges existing notions about how a woman can be in charge of how she is perceived".

Sudha G Tilak is an independent Delhi-based journalist.

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