Opinion | Sunny Leone in Kochi: The Morality Fable
Sunny Leone exists in that twilight zone of the Great Indian Hypocrisy and its patriarchy. Inside the house you need a moral being while in the weekend you love leching at a sexy lady who has done it all.
More than one lakh young men crowded a Kochi street to catch a glimpse of Sunne Leone. (Photo: Twitter)
What stirs the Mallu mind to expressions of utter adulation now are not superstars Mamooty, Mohanlal, its political stars of which there are many, its permanently suspended cricket star of which there is one, its cult poet of which there is one who has retired, its wasted leaders of the revolution, its failed Olympians, and not its new billionaires of which there are 10.
On Thursday, August 16, we discovered that the person for whom Kochi and Kerala will give anything is Sunny Leone, the Bollywood actor, who came for the launch of a smartphone retailer in Kochi.
“My car caught in a sea of love,” was Leone’s caption as she tweeted an incredible picture of more than a lakh young men crowding a Kochi street to catch a glimpse of her. Even when Shah Rukh Khan came to shoot a scene for Mani Ratnam’s movie, such crowds were not seen. A few years ago, a similar crowd had gathered to catch a glimpse of Maradona who had come to inaugurate, well, another jewellery shop in Malabar.
Some things are clear here: Jewellery shops and other such retailers have now become the cultural czars of Kerala who have a sure finger on the pulse of Kerala and bring in the appropriate celebrity to the inauguration of their retail shop. Poets will come for free, but Sunny Leone, who will not move out of her Mumbai pad without Rs 25 lakhs in her pocket, is well worth the money.
Now this brings before us various social and cultural underpinnings of the country’s most educated state. The most obvious one is that the youth of Kerala has enough time to waste. The second is that their heroes and heroines are located elsewhere, in Mumbai, Argentina and the UK. The third is that Keralites are all grateful for jewellery shops, not just for the gold they sell, but for the diamond-encrusted celebrities they bring to the state.
There are many aspects of Sunny Leone that shows up the Great Indian hypocrisy. It also shows that neither the ruling class nor our intellectuals know anything about what the new Indian craves for. We don’t know the mind of new India. Hindi films don’t run in Kerala unless it is a super hit film. Then what did a bit actress do to pull out thousands of Keralites from their homes and jobs and afternoon siesta to block out a highway?
The reason is quite simple: She was an adult film actress who has no qualms about admitting it. So now we also know that the sexual fantasies of the Malayali is closely intertwined with that of the rest of India.
Leone has been imported from the seedy lanes of triple X Americana and planted here as if she can fill a big void in Bollywood and by extension in the Indian male mind. What is that big gap? Is it moral? Or is it based on the Indian male perception of what a real lady as different from a cinematic heroine should be? Or has it got to do with our concept of what an Indian actress, a moral being, should or can do in movies and what an imported actress who is totally amoral can do.
Overall, it has also to do with the Indian male who just cannot imagine how a girl can act in an adult movie and be blase about it, when sex to him is all male and imposing. Mind you this incredible male-gawking happened on the same day the SC asked the NIA, which had given a terror angle to romantic love, to investigate how a Hindu girl in Kochi could marry a Muslim.
Sunny Leone exists in that twilight zone of the Great Indian Hypocrisy and its patriarchy. Inside the house you need a moral being while in the weekend you love leching at a sexy lady who has done it all. All the better if she has acted and directed some adult flicks because it props your fantasies.
It is very clear that the much-trampled studio floors of Mumbai have provided a moral redemption for a sex movie actress. Her being a ‘lapsed’ Indian and child of Punjabi parents also lets us take pride in the fact that we have after all rescued her from the corrupting shores of big bad America.
Here, Bollywood plays the moral role that we in India expect it to play. By appropriating her, saving her from the fires of hell for copulating in cinemas, we have also shown that we possess the keys to purgatory as well. Mind you, the moral brigade among the police, the civil society and fringe groups have not made any noise or blackened the posters of Sunny Leone.
This is because she had become “desi’ again. But yet for Kochi’s and India’s young men she is the favourite object of fantasy. This is why she is among the most googled name in India. Those who google her hope that the search engine will lead them past all moral firewalls into an adult movie where Leone she is copulating merrily against her very ‘Indianness,’ which she now embraces.
But now that she has been bathed in the purifying waters of Bollywood, what do we make of her? We have embraced her both as a “rescued” Punjabi women and as a role model. Which is all very fine. No Bollywood film has been banned by either the censor board or the Shiv Sena just because there is a Sunny Leone item number. India has forgiven her.
We have embraced Leone for another reason as well. She is fair and fits the profile for Indian fantasising. There's another Indian star who is the reverse of Leone. She has left Indian shores, has been embraced by the modernity of Hollywood and has also done graphic sex scenes and posed in the nude.
Her name is Frieda Pinto, she has done even a Woody Allen film but is unknown in Kochi. In Trishna there is a graphic scene of her being forced into “unnatural sex”. It is a scene that is unforgettable. Her face is in the foreground touching the camera with tears of pain and utter shame careening down her face, as she undergoes the trauma.
That is the moment she decides to kill her slightly psychotic lover played brilliantly by Riz Ahmed. It is a moment of denouement when a village girl crosses over to the world which she may not have known existed: of revenge, of killing, of blood. Not a word escapes her lips throughout the stunningly picturised killing scene and then her steady walk towards her own gory end with a knife stuck by her up her abdomen on a Rajasthan wayside. In Trishna she was questioning the notion of the Bollywood heroine made fully of degradable plaster.
Pinto, however, will never be invited by the Kerala jewellery shops which glitters all through its dark evenings. Even if they did, Kochi’s street would never fill up with lecherous men. Pinto is dark, has no cleavage and has done no item number. Nor has she been rescued from the adult film industry.
Both Pinto and Leone are assertive feminists who crossed all limits of imposed patriarchy and showed guts and daring. Not for the roles they did but because they have a mind of their own. But Kerala loves only one of them. So much for the Malayali adulation.
It is not that other Bollywood heroines are not good actors, or do item numbers badly. But Bollywood heroines operate within the strict confines of morality imposed by patriarchy’s hidden moral codes. Which Bollywood heroine would have done Pinto’s role in Trishna? No one.
For instance, Vidya Balan who tried to cross the moral border a little bit in Dirty Picture was admonished bitterly by the establishment, which wanted about 27 cuts when the movie was telecast but not as much when it was screened. Indian domesticity abhors cleavage. While we love to see cleavage in a theatre, we do not really want Balan to live her life that way, you know.
A Vidya Balan would never have played Frieda Pinto’s role in Trishna for the scenes would have made her fall from the moral pedestal, which she as an Indian actress is expected to occupy. Pinto will never even get an audition for a Karan Johar banner, but she has rubbished the put-on morality of the virtuous Bollywood queens, including one which on seeing a picture of Sunny Leone is reported to have screamed “Chee!” , that typically Indian way of brushing aside ‘immoral’ women and emphasising your morally pure position.
So, despite all the items numbers someone like a Kareena does, she like other Bollywood queens love to hug the image of Indian incorruptible woman. Both Leone and Pinto have dared this patriarchal notion of Indian womanhood and need to be admired. Kochi turned out in thousands for Leone, the rescued revolutionary. But sadly no one in Kochi, or elsewhere, will turn out to see Pinto.
The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed here are personal
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