On 16th July 2018, Sunny Leone’s biopic Karenjit Kaur: The Untold Story was premiered on Zee 5 as a web series. The Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC) had a lot to say. According to the general secretary of DSGMC, Majinder Singh, Kaur is a name given to Sikh women by gurus, and using the name to depict a porn-star’s life is ‘derogatory and cheap publicity’. The Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak (SGPC) even demanded an unconditional apology from Leone and immediate withdrawal of Kaur from the title.
We have come to live in a society which is increasingly professing the idea of gender equality. But the concept of gender equality is often misplaced and misguided. Religion puts women on a pedestal which has expectations associated with it, and the moment she deviates from it, she apparently has no right over her name – one she was given at birth. Men, on the other hand, hardly ever come under the scrutiny of the religious lens.
After the Sikh religious communities voiced their ‘concern’ over the title of the biopic, Twitter was ablaze with support directed at Sunny Leone, many calling her their role model as well.
Misogyny, alcohol & drugs on screen by turbaned Sikh men is being normalized, but Karenjit Kaur Vohra biopic invites wrath? Pause please. 3 asks to Sikhs:
1. Inspire Kaur & Singh values & lifestyle
2. Discard double-standard; Sikhi=1ness
3. Leave #SunnyLeone alone #SikhMatters pic.twitter.com/9v0WIt9n6e
— Harinder Singh | ਹਰਿੰਦਰ ਸਿੰਘ (@1Force) July 17, 2018
All these Punjabi singers praising casteism, drug & alcohol abuse, gun violence are cool to use “Singh” but a former porn star using Kaur “hurts” the sentiments! Wow!
— Paras (@parasrishi) July 18, 2018
In a report published last year, it was stated that India is the third most porn-watching country after the United States and the United Kingdom. We spend 9 minutes and 36 seconds on porn everyday – 16 seconds higher than the world average. When sex is such a sought after means of entertainment, why can we not see beyond an artist’s life as a porn star? The land of kamasutra, a country on the brink of becoming the most populous in the world, is also a nation which condemns a woman endorsing condoms (because why advertise means of safe sex and avoiding STDs?).
We will watch Sunny Leone in adult films as much as we want, her being the top searched celebrity from India in 2017; but we will not leave her alone. Every action is put under scrutiny, and her biopic is called a ‘publicity stunt’. Is that a publicity stunt or the ones made on the lives of convicted criminals, whitewashed to the extent that they have been glorified?
A porn star like Sunny Leone is considered a social outcast; we comment on her adopting a child, and put a question mark on the whether the child will be ashamed of her adoptive mother’s profession. What we do not see, or rather choose to ignore, is the fact that an orphan found a family, thanks to Sunny and her husband.
From pornography, Sunny Leone traversed into mainstream Bollywood, a first ever by a porn star. She is an entrepreneur who owns a studio, Sun Lust Pictures, along with her partner, and hopes to venture into her own line of lingerie and diamonds. Sunny Leone has also been vocal about animal rights, appearing on the cover of a magazine promoting the same. She has been a part of campaigns like PETA (People For Ethical Treatment of Animals).
We will watch Sunny Leone in adult films as much as we want, but we will not leave her alone.
Sunny Leone has come a long way. From a porn star to a Bollywood actress; from a person who didn’t find acceptance in the society owing to her profession, to a businesswoman, Leone has surely accomplished a lot. But we forget that she is a person first.
Going through Twitter in the past few days, I have come across many tweets which claim that Sunny Leone is their role model. She has come a long way in her career, has always maintained a strong stance in the media, and does not regret any of her decisions taken in her life. She is surely a strong, empowered woman who must be inspiring for many. But people tagging her as their role model is again, a tag; a social obligation one is supposed to fulfill, to stand up to; which calls for her being answerable to people, simply because they place her on a certain pedestal. Sunny Leone is not my role model.
Sunny Leone is, first and foremost, a human; a person who has all the right in the world to do whatever she wants to. We have to understand that before being a porn star, or a Sikh woman, or an entrepreneur, Sunny Leone is a person. She is entitled to the right to choose her profession, the freedom to choose whether or not to endorse a condom brand or to use her birth name. We, the media, the people who so vehemently stand for whatever we believe in, need to stop tagging Leone according to our convenience.
Sunny Leone need not drop her name just because she is a former porn star. She does not need to fit into the norms of being a role model either. In both the cases, she is expected to mould herself according to someone else’s idea of who she ought to be – that is where the entire problem lies. A person commands respect for the simple virtue of it, that they are a person. There are no ‘terms and conditions’ attached to it.
We have to understand that before being a porn star, or a Sikh woman, or an entrepreneur, Sunny Leone is a person.
Sunny Leone does not need to justify being named Kaur by standing up to the expectations of her religion. Nor does she have to answer to people’s whispers and comments over her indulgences simply because she is their role model. She is herself and no one else. She can now come out of the closet of societal expectations we have shoved her in.
Featured Image Credit: Sunny Leone | Twitter