Sunny Leone on playing herself in Zee5 series: 'Acting in my own biopic was the hardest thing'
In an exclusive interview with Firstpost from Los Angeles where she’s currently on a vacation, Sunny Leone talks about working on her biopic, the web series Karenjit Kaur: The Untold Story of Sunny Leone.
When Sunny Leone agreed to tell her own story — in Karenjit Kaur: The Untold Story of Sunny Leone, a 20 episode web series that premieres on Zee5 (16 July) — she was excited but when the work on her biopic began she realised how difficult it would be. “I thought it was a great idea but it was the hardest thing of my life; to redo the whole journey, some of which is great but some of which went very wrong,” says Leone in an exclusive interview with Firstpost from Los Angeles where she’s currently on a vacation.
It’s not often that someone gets to star in their own biopic, something that was a bit of a challenge for Leone. “The entire process of writing, the workshops, going back and digging up the past — I would at times wonder, ‘Why would I want to do this to myself?’,” she laughs. Born Karenjit Kaur to a Sikh family in Canada, Leone went from being an adult entertainment star, to a participant on Indian reality show Bigg Boss, to a Bollywood figure. The first season of the series traces her life as a young adult up to the point where she takes the decision to do the first photo shoot for Penthouse magazine, which paves the road for a career in pornography. It also talks about her changing equation with the family. The second season, which is yet to be filmed, will delve into her early career as an adult entertainer.
Interestingly, Leone is yet to see the finished product. "I haven't had the chance to see a single complete episode as I was busy with work," she says.
Having Leone play herself was also a huge challenge for the series director, Aditya Datt. “It has happened only once, with 8 Mile (Eminem played himself in his own biopic released in 2002). There is always the scope for vastness when another person plays your character otherwise the audience might question the objectivity even before watching the film. Hence, here we often had to tell Sunny to detach herself from being Sunny. There are pros and cons to it,” says Datt. Leone has played herself in both the seasons, from age 18-19 till her mid 30s, her present age.
The director clarifies that the biopic is in no way an image cleaner. “We must give credit to Sunny to letting us narrate her story as truly as we can and be close to the facts. It comes from one’s personality, and Sunny stands by what she has done. She gave us a freehand to narrate her story. She has the courage to stand by things and she did exactly that in the show, too. She isn’t apologetic about it, she says it very openly, ‘guilty of doing it my way’. This is cinema and not a documentary there is a slight element of drama. It is definitely not an image cleaner, not something which is trying to somewhere justify her move. There were decisions and career choices which she took and she stands by that. What I have understood of her, is that the only people she was answerable to in her life was her family. The show is about the family and that’s what mattered to her the most,” says Datt, who’s quite confident about positive response from the audience.
For months, Leone sat with the writer, going over things that had happened to her over the years. Some of it was happy; some, not so much. “I was angry, sad, I cried sitting on my couch for many months, explaining some of these stories. The emotional part was those with my parents, because they’ve passed away. And then you see their pictures on the wall every day, in the house that I grew up in,” she recalls, adding “I had to bite my tongue so many times but I was so happy that everybody was on the same page as me."
And how many times did she feel she wasn’t acting at all? “It is difficult to answer that but I can only say that acting in my own biopic was the hardest thing for me to do,” says Leone.
Thirteen-year-old Dubai-born Rysa Saujani portrays Leone in her younger years. The budding actress, who filmed primarily in Cape Town, South Africa, found the role to be “emotionally challenging”. Saujani feels that the biopic might help strip away some of the judgement that has attached itself to Leone. “After reading the script and understanding her full story, I have nothing but respect for her. Her story is an incredible one,” says Saujani, in a heavy British accent.
Leone hopes that the finished product will help viewers understand the human behind the persona she crafted. "It would be really nice when people watch this and feel, ‘Oh, she went through some of the same things that I went through as a kid.’ I’m just like everybody else. Everybody has problems, have family issues or have some crazy, insane or traumatic things that happened in their lives. Just that not everybody gets to tell the story,” she says.
While Leone refused to comment over Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) objecting to the title of the biopic — they felt that a person who doesn’t follow the teachings of Sikh Gurus shouldn’t use the name Kaur as it could hurt Sikh sentiments — Datt chimed in to say, “It’s surprising that there is an objection to using one's own family name, which is one's birthright... and for what? The series is based on truth and facts related to Sunny’s life. How does one change the truth? And why?”
Meanwhile, Leone, who made a big splash in Bollywood over five years back with the erotic thriller Jism 2, reveals that there’s been a lot of curiosity about her life in the industry. “People usually can put two and two together. My journey isn’t conventional in any way. I have had my own share of struggle in the industry and people were assuming a lot of things about me,” she says. So will the biopic bring about a change in her acting career? “I don’t know what is going to happen but I am extremely nervous. Doing the second season broke my heart and I hope people feel the same way that I did,” signs off Leone.
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