“Our past decides our future,” says Sunny Leone in a voiceover in the trailer of her biopic series, Karenjit Kaur: The Untold Story Of Sunny Leone. Yet the spunky showgirl hasn’t allowed the constraints of her past confine the possibility of a new future. Born as Karenjit Kaur in a Sikh family in Canada, her narrative has scaled
From studying to be a nurse to becoming an adult star and then taking a detour to return to her Indian roots and entering the film industry, hers has been a story of squashing prejudice and perception. Her big ticket to India was appearing in Bigg Boss season 5 in 2011. Post that, she kick-started her film career with Pooja Bhatt’s Jism 2 followed by Ragini MMS 2, Mastizaade, One Night Stand and Tera Intezaar. Her tantalising moves in the reloaded Laila main Laila in Shah Rukh Khan’s Raees was her entry into the big league. Not to forget that her scintillating moves in Baby doll (Ragini MMS 2) and Pink lips (Hate Story 2) had already won her cheerleaders aplenty.
Karenjit Kaur… has indeed been a catharsis of sorts for Sunny, where she relived the watershed moments of her life and perhaps found a closure. What’s more it acquainted her fans with the sentimental Sunny, who’s often overshadowed by her erstwhile Penthouse-Pet status. The season finale spotlights family dynamics including her mother’s demise, her father’s fight with cancer and her marriage to business partner Daniel Weber. Producer Shareen Mantri and director Aditya Datt wanted to showcase her journey through an objective lens.
The show somewhere has changed people’s perception about her. “Usually, perception is hard to change. My intention in doing this show wasn’t to change perception. The script had depth and wasn’t just going to be about adult stuff. That appealed to me,” she says. She concedes it was tough revisiting the intense segments of her life. “When I enacted those moments with the characters, who resembled my family, with the home having actual pictures of my parents, it was heart-breaking,” she confides. “Usually, I don’t see my parents’ photographs because then I miss them. When you hear the same lines that your parents had told you, it gets difficult. But I wanted the truth to be shown.”
She’s pleasantly surprised by the reactions to the show. A girl wrote saying that she had lost her parents recently and could relate to Sunny’s pain in the film. “I got goose-bumps reading that,” she narrates. “My story deals with family intricacies that occur in most households. I cried while sharing my story with the team. I cried while shooting the series. I cried after shooting. It took me a while to come out of that. Honestly, the finale season killed me. There was a lot of heartache.” While Sunny plays herself, South African model Marc Buckner plays her husband Daniel Weber and Bijay J. Anand and Grusha Kapoor play her parents in the series. “The first time Daniel met my mother was at her funeral,” she reveals. “That was the first time he met my father too. He was there at a time when there was so much chaos and distress in my life. He was like a God-sent angel. He was there to pick up those broken pieces within me,’’ she says adding, “He’s funny and cute too.”
Professionally, Sunny is not apologetic about her choices. She has no qualms about her journey as she believes the experiences have only enabled her to evolve as a person. “I made decisions, which were good for me at that moment. But personally, I regret not being at home when my mother passed away (2008). My father was suffering from cancer since long. So we were all present there when he breathed his last (2010). I wish I could have been with my mom,” she sighs.
It’s not been a cakewalk for the Canada-born Indian-American actress to return to her roots in India. She found it tough to live down her past career choice and had to endure trolling. She dealt with it all with dignity. “At times, while doing an interview with a person, they’d seem so nice and funny. But they’d go back and write nasty things. That affected me. After all, I’m a human being, not a robot. I block people on social media when they post obscene material or write offensive stuff about me,” she states. She doesn’t mind being criticised for her work. It’s the personal attacks that leave her hurt and disappointed. “If you say your acting is horrible, it’s fine. But there’s a limit to being rude.”
The braveheart seeks refuge in the warmth of her family. Sunny and Daniel married in 2011 and are parents to Nisha, whom they adopted and twin boys Noah and Asher, born through surrogacy. “Motherhood has completely changed me,” she smiles. “It’s the best feeling when you see your babies smile at you first thing in the morning. We have nannies to look after them but Daniel and I are hands-on parents. We like doing everything for our children. We enjoy feeding them; changing diapers, putting them in bed… we enjoy it all,” she beams. “I’m good at juggling things. I make sure everything is running smoothly. I read and try to figure out what’s best for my children. I’m the stricter one with the kids and the nannies.”
Where work is concerned, her ‘plate is full’. She’ll soon make her full-fledged South debut with Veeramadevi, a period drama where she’ll play a warrior princess. Recently, she also shared screen space with megastar Mammootty in Madhura Raja, in which her dance number Moha mundiri became a rage. She’s as excited about the Malayalam film Rangeela featuring Salim Kumar and Sujith. Arjun Patiala with Diljit Dosnajh and Kriti Sanon is another plum project.
Finally, wrapping up the conversation, she comments, “I love the film industry. I belong here. I’m living a dream. I can’t think of the US as home. I’m at home here in India.”