In a comfortable hotel suite in Yorkville, Toronto we take shelter from the throngs of fans outside; the entire city buzzing with sightings and brushes with celebrity at the Toronto International Film Festival. We sit down with Indo-Canadian film director, journalist and photographer Dilip Mehta (brother to Deepa Mehta). He is making light of his death threats earlier that day from members of the Canadian Sikh community (threats that don’t occur in India!), as we sit to discuss his latest project: ‘Mostly Sunny’.
The film is a documentary about Karenjit Kaur Vohra, an actress born in Sarnia, Ontario to a conservative Sikh family. Upon moving to California, she rejected the strict moral code of her Thus began an astoundingly successful career in the porn industry. After 12 years at the top of the adult film industry she retired and decided to go to India.
She is now a Bollywood star and an even larger force in advertising and on social media. ‘Mostly Sunny’ documents her rise – an ex-porn-actress making it big in ultra-conservative India.
I asked Mehta how her meteoric rise was even possible in India and he said with a grin
“We obviously must be a nation of dirty old men! I honestly don’t have a real answer for you. Present day India is steeped in intolerance. We have a religious, right-wing government with moral police and policies. Our Muslim brethren are fearful under the fundamentalist leadership…and into this environment we have Sunny Leone who parachutes in from her former porn career and is now thriving. Not just doing OK but thriving in India! I don’t understand it.”
I asked him if this was a case of India once again being seduced (literally in this case) by “the West”,
“No I don’t think so, not at all. Sexuality and pornography are not an invention of the West. We have a long history of this. After all we are the land of the Kama Sutra and the erotic temple carvings. Show me a Christian church where women were feted for showing their femininity. The repression of sexuality is a throwback to the Victorian English who left behind their prudishness…”
He wanted to tell this story because
“It reflects current day India. This film says something about Sunny but more about the people who have made her a star. I didn’t want to do a puff piece. I initially came to the project with preconceived notions and I realized I was a fool because I was doing the film a disservice. I decided to try and be nonjudgmental and I stopped ALL research on her and would just let her speak. I more often than not would call her Beti (daughter) while we were filming. As an endearment but also as my way of letting her know that I was not looking down on her. Why should I judge her? I didn’t risk my body and life. She isn’t repentant about her former career, so it shouldn’t bother me.”
Would she have achieved any of her mainstream success in Hollywood?
“Never! They would never let a porn star cross over. She has been rejected in Canada and America but embraced in India! I don’t get it. It is a paradox.”
So then Sunny Leone: Proud feminist or shrewd capitalist?
“Why not a combination of the two? I salute her. She marches to her own tune. It is our problem that we judge her. She doesn’t care or mind. She is not ashamed of her past”.
For his next work Dilip is continuing work on a feature film he began 3 years ago called In ‘Search of the Hangman’. A true story about a murderer in India who is about to face the death penalty by hanging, when the hangman absconds for philosophical reasons…