By Rohini Banerjee:
“I wonder if I’m being morally corrupt by interviewing you”
When you are watching an interview being conducted by a ‘seasoned’ journalist from a reputed news channel, that’s the last thing you expect to hear him say, but shockingly that’s exactly what TV journalist Bhupendra Chaubey said while interviewing Canadian-Indian pornstar-turned-actor Sunny Leone. But this was not even one percent of the judgemental, sexist and bigoted things he said during the course of the interview.
Sunny Leone had been working in the adult entertainment industry in the US when ‘Bigg Boss‘, the Indian version of ‘Big Brother‘, invited her to be part of the show. Soon after she appeared on ‘Bigg Boss‘, she shot to fame and began acting in Bollywood films. Since then, Leone has become one of Bollywood’s most bankable stars, and in her four-year career, has acted in films across several Indian languages such as Kannada, Telugu and Hindi. Her immense popularity and success recently put her on Forbes India Magazine’s top 100 celebrity list, and she also became the most searched person on Google in India in 2015— for the fourth consecutive year. Yet, despite her various accomplishments, Leone was subjected to this rather humiliating interview where Chaubey, the interviewer, launched vicious moral attacks on the actor, continuously passing judgement about her past in the porn industry and her expression of bodily autonomy. He tried to mask his personal attacks behind phrases like “people say”, and so-and-so has said, but Sunny was having none of that. She held her ground admirably, and came up with rejoinders that were so brilliant that by the end of the interview, it was Chaubey who came across as a ridiculous bumbling fool.
Before he even began the interview, Chaubey declared Leone to be “not your conventional idea of an Indian woman”—which, excuse you, who are you to decide? What is a “conventional Indian woman” anyway, and what is this bogus standard of behaviour that all Indian women have to adhere to? But this was just the beginning. During the course of the interview, he continues to very brashly imply that she is corrupting traditional Indian virtues through not just being in charge of her sexuality on screen, but through her “past” in the adult industry (an argument which makes zero sense, by the way). He suggests that she is inciting male sexual libidos to such an extent that married men across the country are turning unfaithful to their wives. But Sunny (god bless her), remains utterly unperturbed through these gross moral judgements and calmly continues to shut him down by saying things like, “Sorry ladies, I don’t want your husbands at all, I have my own.”
But this man just would not stop going on about her “past” in the porn industry. He kept accosting her with questions about her porn career, but Sunny calmly and with great dignity kept shutting him down.
Sunny: “You’re the only person… It’s the press and the media that says holding back or haunt. I’ve never said haunt, I’ve never said held back. I am not held back. Maybe I don’t know yet. Maybe one day I get to work with somebody who is this huge star. At this moment, I don’t know any better so it doesn’t affect my life.”
Here’s another brilliant way Sunny countered his judgemental bullshit:
Chaubey (interrupting while Sunny was talking): “I sometimes wonder, and pardon me if I’m in anyways being offensive here, but how many people would think in terms of growing up to be a porn star?”
Sunny: “No one.”
Chaubey: “And you became. So how did that happen? I want to know it from you, how did that happen?”
Sunny: “It wasn’t something I aspired to do. It just kinda happened. I met an agent and when I saw these photos of these women, I didn’t think, Oh this is vulgar, I didn’t think that, Oh this is wrong. I thought of it as being beautiful, and I thought they’re sexy, they’re beautiful, they’re free, they’re doing whatever they want to do. And that’s how I saw it.”
What’s more, Chaubey even tried to further shame Sunny while citing random instances of politicians and people in the film industry shying away from her because of her—you guessed it right—“past”. And here’s how Sunny shut that down:
Chaubey: “Look at how your actions are being interpreted in India. Atul Anjan who happens to be an MP of CPI has consistently gone on record, and mind you, he’s not the only one, where he holds you responsible for corrupting Indian minds, Indian morality. Again I go back to it, when these kind of comments are made, how do you deal with them?”
Sunny: “I think I am happy to be a part of a political speech. If you think about me so much in your day, you want to put me in your speeches and you want to blame me for things… umm I think that it’s that person’s choice but I’m glad… y’know I’m waiting for Obama to put me in his speech. (laughs)”
One really has to admire Sunny Leone’s poise and grace in dealing with these utterly ridiculous unprofessional personal attacks. And as for Chaubey, he came across as the typical patriarchal male, policing a woman’s right to her body and sexuality. Not to mention, also an incredibly sloppy journalist. One should take cues from Shekhar Gupta’s interview of Leone, where he encouraged Sunny to really open up about herself and talk about her motivations and aspirations surrounding both her past and present careers.
If you can’t keep your (absurd) personal biases aside while conducting an interview, then I’m sorry but you have failed as an interviewer. As comedian (and Leone’s co-star in her current film) Vir Das aptly said: “Here’s hoping Mr Chaubey’s next interview explores something other than his own prejudice.”