With her head firmly on her lovely shoulders, Sunny Leone declares that if people have reservations they simply needn’t buy tickets to her films. Somehow, Nichola Pais can’t see that happening!
To get through to Sunny Leone, you must first get past a wall called Daniel Webber. This hunky man is extremely protective of his lovely wife – and rightly so! – ensuring that she never has to face any threatening or embarrassing moments.
By the looks of it, though, Webber hasn’t been tested much on that front. For some wonderfully inexplicable reason, Sunny Leone, ex-porn star, actress, successful businesswoman, Penthouse Pet of the Year (2003) and named by Maxim as one of the 12 top porn stars in 2010, has been welcomed surprisingly warmly into Hindi filmdom. (And they call Bollywood regressive!!) The sniggers – and there will be those – have been largely subdued and Sunny is clearly making hay as the sun shines.
We catch her amidst a flurry of promotions for her upcoming JACKPOT, to find her beaming like she really has hit the jackpot! True? “Oh, of course, in every single way! I never, in a million years, thought I would be acting in a Hindi movie, speaking a different language. But this too hasn’t been as difficult… I might sound a little funny saying ‘ghoda’ or ‘bhaag’ but it’s me and that’s my voice – it’s not going anywhere!”
Interesting! Is she actually going to be dubbing… and in Hindi? “In Hindi! Actually, in Hinglish! I’m dubbing for the first time for JACKPOT, and I’m really excited about people seeing it.”
Given her extremely strong American accent, that’s a pretty brave thing to do… “Oh well, it definitely hasn’t been easy. I’ve been working extremely hard… Everything that I’ve done I’ve been trying to work as hard as I possibly can. Same goes for dubbing. It wasn’t easy but we did finish it in relatively good time. I picked up the idea of dubbing and how it all works, fairly easily. As far as my accent goes, I’m sure there will be a little bit of an accent – my dialogues are in English and partly in Hindi as well. They had dubbed somebody else’s voice too so what Kaizad (Gustad, director) did was he compared each scene of the dubbing artiste’s with mine. I think, if I could give a little bit more in performance over an accent, I would take that any day! I felt that my performance was a little bit better than the dubbing artiste’s, because I was there... I knew what I gave in that scene, I knew how I spoke, I knew the reactions that were told to me by the director that day, which a dubbing artiste might not … So for me, I know that there are probably going to be a large amount of people who will say it isn’t proper Hindi, that it doesn’t sound right or whatever but it’s me! That’s all of me; it’s not somebody else. What you get is what you’re going to see of me. Like I said, I would take people making fun of my voice, over my acting.”
So, besides her own genuine voice, what do audiences have to look forward to in JACKPOT? “Well, it’s definitely a different type of movie. Kaizad Sir only makes movies which are extremely different from what people see usually. He is known for that. Also, it’s more of a performance-based movie in terms of dialogues and scenes. The movie is not solely based on the idea of me being in an intimate scene with somebody throughout the movie. It’s not like that. It is sexy, but at the same time, it is a movie based on a character for which I didn’t need to be Sunny Leone, the porn star. It’s not like that at all.”
One gets the feeling that it’s not just about the money… That she really is looking for something creatively challenging here… “Oh completely! More than the money, I think it’s about being able to live my dream, which is to make movies and act in movies. I have a business in LA; my husband and I both have businesses in the US that do well so it’s not that I’m doing it for the money. The money is up there but I’m not desperate for it. For me, it’s more that I need to be in a movie! A couple of weeks ago, when I was shooting for TINA AND LOLO, the director told me, ‘Your face, after you’ve done a scene, is amazing!’ I have a smile that goes from ear to ear and I’m like, ‘Yes Sir, I love it. I love my job!’ It just is so much fun for me!”
She’s clearly a strong and smart girl to have come from the outside and made a niche for herself in a different industry altogether… “The way that I see it, those are the opportunities that are available and that are being offered to me – I will take that. I don’t want to just make the same type of movie. If it’s a negative character, then it’s a negative character and if it’s a positive character then that’s great for me too. It’s more about the story and more about how the production team is and who the director is and how well we all get along.”
So, what kind of strategy is she applying when it comes to choosing roles? “Well, each of the movies that I’ve chosen to make last year, this year and the coming year are completely different from the other. So there was JISM 2 and there is RAGINI MMS which is a horror movie and there’s JACKPOT which is a con movie with a little bit of a negative role. Then again, TINA AND LOLO which is a woman-centric film where the heroes of the movie are two women kicking butt in action, and shooting and all these crazy things. It has some humour in it as well, which should be very sweet. The other movies that I have chosen for next year, are again very different.”
As the Americans say, sounds like a plan! But how is she going about tackling people’s mindsets? Has she been able to change people’s perceptions of her? “My goal isn’t really to change people or change how people see me – I don’t think I could do that on a mass level at all! If anything, it’s more about changing one person’s opinion at a time. I am who I am and there are people out there who accept it and there are people who don’t. They’re entitled to their opinion and they’re entitled to view me as they please. Am I that person that they think I am? Probably not. And if I do change one person’s opinion at a time on how they see me, then great! If I don’t then luckily for them, they don’t have to buy the ticket to my movie!”
Absolutely! Everyone has a choice. That said, she seems to have already managed to change the perceptions of certain key Bollywood folk, like Ekta Kapoor and Sachiin Joshi… “I’m happy to be working with them, given their vision. Working with Ekta has been absolutely amazing. RAGINI MMS, I hope, will be a very, very scary movie. Being able to be in the item song in SHOOTOUT AT WADALA was amazing and it did great things for my career, so I’m very happy for that. There’s not so much mentoring (from Ekta’s side). When we talk, it’s always pleasant conversation and either we talk about a movie and how well it’s doing or the buzz that surrounds a movie.”
There’s a quiet confidence about her that one doesn’t expect in a rookie in Bollywood. But then she is no newbie, is she? “(Laughs) I come from around 13 years of business, so for me it’s not something that’s new to me – it’s just a different industry. The basic fundamentals are all the same. I’ve been giving interviews all these years so I’ve learned how to speak to a journalist, and I’ve learnt to answer the questions of an aunty or a grandma or whoever it is! It’s usually along the lines of the same questions. I mean, you just learn.”
And is she learning to deal with the fact that many star wives will simply not permit their husbands to work opposite her? “I think that time is going to change things – it’s not something that I can change overnight. All I can say is, I have the most loving, caring husband ever so it’s not me you have to worry about, I promise! It’s maybe, other people you need to worry about! As far as I’m concerned, I want to do my job. I know, for a lot of other people, they’re scared to attach their name next to mine because they want to be viewed as a family actor, appealing to family audiences; whatever it may be. All I can say is, I’ll probably be the hardest working co-star you’ll have, I’ll always be on time and I work extremely hard, and I’m very professional. I find it very interesting that an older actor like Naseer Sir (Naseeruddin Shah) was okay with working with me in JACKPOT and I’ve met his family, his wife and kids… It was absolutely amazing to work with him. But that comes with the idea of being very secure with your life, your relationship with your wife and also as an actor.”
Truth is, it might not be Sunny, as much as their own husbands, that the star wives don’t trust! “Maybe, I have no idea! Each relationship is extremely different.”
So, what does the future look like? “Well, I’ve been working on making my American accent disappear in movies! If they like it or hate it, it’s fine – I want them to accept it and be okay with it while they’re watching it on screen. And then there’s the dancing and the singing that I’m working on, which is a vital part of Hindi cinema. For each of my movies, I make sure I get extra training, extra days of working on dances. For me, I want it to look good. I don’t want to feel like I’ve been cheated out of looking absolutely amazing. There’s millions of people watching it – I want it to look great! I hope that I continue to make movies and that people are entertained by the movies I am in and that they enjoy it.”
Sunny Leone, giving it her best shot… What could be there not to like??