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What Sunny Leone Taught Us About Dignity

Watching Bhupendra Chaubey’s contempt for Sunny Leone (He did not even care to pronounce her name correctly) in a brutal interview on CNN IBN reminded me of an episode many years ago when my son was about six or seven and as a working mother, I had taken him to a media event I was supposed to cover for a newspaper. When we were having dinner, an inebriated PR executive walked up to us and sat down. He began to vent about his girlfriend while I tried to ignore him and ended with the punchline, “I am done. Now I want to have an affair with an older woman.”  Along with the shock and rage I felt at that moment, came a surge of incredulity at the thought that I had now been categorised as an older woman who was single and must be desperate or lonely or both to have an affair with anyone who prepositioned her.
I remembered a well-connected writer (a woman) cornering me at a book launch to ask if she could help with an editing job now that I was single and must be financially hard up and by the way, she whispered, “what went wrong?” And was visibly disappointed when I told her that there was no dirt where she was digging.
I remembered vicious comments from erstwhile friends about how my creativity must be a result of my poor, sad, single existence. I remembered a few young men I have met during the course of my work as a writer who thought that just because I was older than them, I was available to listen to their rants about their careers and love lives. “Available” for one-sided communication because what else could a woman of my age expect from life? A coffee date, romance, roses, respect and lasting love?And then I realised what Sunny Leone figured out a long time ago perhaps. That people’s perception of a woman has nothing to do with who she is. A woman is always a ‘type’ in India and labels stick to her like second skin. She is nothing if not a projection of deeply entrenched prejudices. That is why there is so much hatred for a woman who doesn’t  care what people think of her. As Mohadesa Najumihe once said, “A woman who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet.” Feared, yes, and loathed because she somehow by the very fact of her independent, happy existence defies her critics and shows them how little they matter.
And how can we not matter to Sunny Leone? We who loathe her as Chaubey was at pains to convey, and yet are consumed by her to the extent that we google her more than any other individual in this country? Chaubey began by trying to get her to be defensive and apologetic about her ‘past’ as a ‘porn queen.’ Certainly, a far more shame inducing crime than spending crores to escape the consequences of mowing a poor man under the wheels of a SUV. I would really like  Chaubey to ask Salman Khan some of the questions he asked Sunny, “Do you regret your past? Do you mind when someone writes insulting things about you? So you think you are an actor? So you think just your body will take you further? Don’t you care at all about what some people think of you? Is it just about money then?”  Or ask the likes of Shahrukh Khan and Ajay Devgan why they endorse fairness creams and paan masalas considering how damaging they are to the well-being of consumers.
Most of Chaubey’s attack was rooted in, “But don’t you care that….?”
And he got more and more flustered as Sunny countered all his bare knuckled insults with many dignified and articulate versions of, “What people think of me has nothing to do with me.” She did not say that it had everything to do with them but that was obvious, wasn’t it? What she managed to demonstrate was the true meaning of dignity and self-worth even when both are being attacked viciously on national television by a senior journalist. It was visibly hard for Chaubey to wrap his head around the fact that an erstwhile porn star was now a successful movie star, was happily married, was successful and unapologetic, and really did not care what he or anyone else thought of her.
And the higher moral ground that Chaubey appropriated on behalf of us all? Really, who are we to question Sunny’s choices in a country where women are stalked and raped and attacked just because they are women and then shamed because well, they are somehow always responsible for how men behave around them? We are a moral society that she will corrupt? A society where babies are sexually violated, rape threats are issued freely online to any woman with an opinion and rape is blamed on instant noodles, a pair of jeans, mobiles, education, the wrong time, the wrong place but never on the rapist? We hate opinionated women and as Kangna Ranaut said in a recent interview on NDTV, “We should stop putting women in boxes. I am always told that no one likes a ‘dedh-shaani’ (An ‘over-smart’ woman) but I am a badass and very proud of who I have become.”
Like her or hate her, Sunny Leone is a proud woman. Even someone as judgemental as Chaubey could see that even though it was hard for him to reconcile the woman he had possibly seen in a porn video with the poised, articulate, successful person sitting  before him, taunting him with her pure imperviousness. Mr Chaubey, you with your supercilious morality and those you spoke for..women insecure about their husbands, people who think a pornstar  is somehow more harmful to the well-being of a nation than corrupt politicians, rapists, acid attackers, honour killers and power drunk superstars, need a Sunny Leone to feel a sense of existential validation and to exude superiority they have not earned.
She however does not need your respect and is not affected by your disrespect. Please try and make peace with that and the next time you interview a woman who threatens you as much as Sunny did just by sitting before you in a chair,  instead of trying to hold up a mirror to her, look at yourself closely. You will not like what will be revealed. And not just because you are not as pretty as Ms Leone. Please make a note of that. It is Leone. Not Leon.
Reema Moudgil is the editor and co-founder of Unboxed Writers, the author of Perfect Eight, the editor of  Chicken Soup for the Soul-Indian Women, a  translator who recently interpreted  Dominican poet Josefina Baez’s book Comrade Bliss Ain’t Playing in Hindi, an  RJ with Timbre Media and an artist who has exhibited her work in India and the US and is now retailing some of her art at http://paintcollar.com/reema. She won an award for her writing/book from the Public Relations Council of India in association with Bangalore University, has written for a host of national and international magazines since 1994 on cinema, theatre, music, art, architecture and more. She hopes to travel more and to grow more dimensions as a person. And to be restful, and alive in equal measure.

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1 Comment

  1. Souzeina Souzeina
    January 19, 2016    

    Thank you sharing this.

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