It is raining star biopics and biographies on the screen and in the literary world, and the internet does not want to be left behind. Zee5’s web series Karenjit Kaur: The Untold Story of Sunny Leone, directed by Aditya Datt and steered by Leone, offers a peek into the life of the former adult entertainer and Bollywood actress.
Leone stars as herself in the 10-episode series alongside Bijay Jasjit Anand and Grusha Kapoor, who play her parents. Rysa Saujani portrays her younger self, Karamvir Lamba plays her brother, Sundeep, and Marc Bucker depicts her husband, Daniel Weber.
The series, as the title indicates, explores Leone’s back story before she became a reputed porn star in America and a popular name in the Bollywood entertainment industry after her appearance in the reality television show Bigg Boss in 2011. She was born Karenjit Kaur Vohra, into a Sikh family in Sarnia in Canada, grew up to be a rebellious teenager after the family moved to Los Angeles in America, and became an adult entertainer at the age of 19. The ‘Sunny’ in her name has been inspired by her brother, Sundeep Vohra.
“Karenjit Kaur is a human being and Sunny Leone is a brand,” Leone declares as the series opens.
The idea of an autobiographical web series came from producer Shareen, Leone explained in an email interview from Los Angeles. “She [Shareen] came to us and explained what she wanted to shoot and the story she wanted to tell,” Leone said. “How she wanted to tell the story of not just my career choices but my family as well, adding a more personal feel to the biopic. It was again Shareen and Daniel’s [Leone’s husband] idea that I would play myself which has not been done in Indian cinema.”
The web series comes on the heels of Dilip Mehta’s 2016 documentary Mostly Sunny, which is streaming on Netflix. Mostly Sunny is an attempt to decode the Indian public’s fascination for Leone and map her life before she came to India. Leone participated in the film, candidly spoke about her personal and professional choices, and gave Mehta considerable access to her world. However, by the time the documentary came out, Leone had distanced herself from the film.
“A lot of people liked it but I did not like his [Mehta’s] filming style or how things were manipulated to his benefit,” Leone said without elaborating further. “I wanted to tell my story and the Zee5 series is my story completely.”
The Zee5 series opens with what appears to be a dramatised recreation of a television interview that Leone gave News18 journalist Bhupendra Chaubey in 2016. Chaubey was criticised for his questions, which included, “How many people would grow up thinking of becoming a porn star?” and “There are lots of married women who look at Sunny Leone as a threat to their husbands. Do you not care about all this?”
In the web series, television journalist Anupam Chaubey (Raj Arjun) asks Leone similar questions, although they are even more dramatically phrased. Example: “A lot of people would say that there is no difference between a porn star and a prostitute. What do you have to say about that?”
Leone uses the interview to address questions that have often been asked of her: was she forced into becoming an adult entertainer? Was she pushed by financial troubles in her family? Does she regret any of her decisions?
“The interview was a vehicle to propel the story forward and the journalist needed [to] ask the right questions that most people out there have,” Leone said.
Leone clarified that the web series was aimed at her fans rather than her detractors. “That [A response to her detractors] definitely was not my first thought at all,” she said. “This [the series] was for my fans and their curiosity and also to share with them my story to hopefully help people to know it’s okay to create your own destiny. Not choose my path but their own. It might be hard but the reward of freedom and accomplishment means more than dealing with a few haters.”
The series stops at the point at which Leone becomes an adult entertainer. Will a second season include her plunge into Hindi films too? “Not sure about another season but we shall find out if people are interested to see my version of things, those I went through and witnessed,” Leone said.