The following letter was written in response to an interview of Bollywood actress Sunny Leone by CNN-IBN’s Bhupendra Chaubey.
Dearest Bhupendra Chaubey,
Congratulations for scoring a spot on the “most sexist professionals” list to kick off 2016. Your recent interview with actress Sunny Leone was outstanding. Notice that I did not label her a “former porn star,” as you chose to reiterate multiple times in the 20-minute segment, because what is in the past does not necessarily correlate to every moment of the present. Also, notice that I called the interview outstanding because it surely was—though not due to you, but instead due to your guest, Leone.
Firstly, your interview highlighted the paradox of your reputation as a senior, respected journalist who has had years of experience with NDTV and now CNN-IBN—both leading English language channels, with the latter owned by Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani. Yet, not an ounce of truly professional journalism—the act of impartially gathering, processing, and disseminating news—was present in the reel. Instead, the interview resembled a criminalized badgering and interrogation of the interviewee, Leone, whose only offense was to have been a human; more specifically, a woman, that has made unique, and possibly questionable, career choices.
I say “possibly questionable” because I, too, understand how her career choice to make and exhibit porn can incite public moral debate. I also understand how her present career as a Bollywood actress, often scantily clad and hypersexualized in her films, can draw negative attention in this race towards a globalized feminism. People will judge. It is what we do. Yet, despite our judgments, I also understand that prosecuting Leone for her professional and personal route is not a privilege granted to me or to you.
Really, all you did was waste a wonderful opportunity to perhaps create an intellectually stimulating conversation surrounding the ethics of porn—to rationally discuss how performing and consuming porn may or may not fit into the larger culturally conservative Indian society.
The takeaway messages were, unfortunately, both how subpar of a journalist you are and the sexism you outwardly displayed. Yet, take heed: Leone was not the one to convey this though she had quite the prerogative to do so.
Secondly, I would like to elaborate on the terms “woman” and “choice.” Yes, Leone is a woman—but a human, nonetheless, just like you. This means that she is both fallible and has feelings, just like you. Therefore, no, you will not ‘become morally corrupt by talking to her.’ On the other hand, have you ever considered how morally corrupt Indian society, which is already coated in patriarchal undertones, could become by having you talk to them? Have you ever considered how the effects of media censorship are not simply limited to Leone’s work as an actress and former porn star, but could also extend to your work, were you to continue combative journalism?
The great difference between you and Leone, in this interview, is much deeper than your biology as a man can define. Leone actually used her calculated power as a calm, controlled, and collected woman to provide your inane questions with tactful responses. In the face of your recklessness, Leone instead exhibited the emotional intelligence that women are often undermined to have.
Moreover, being a woman does not give Leone any less agency than a man to choose her desired path.
It seems like we often forget that women are also human and that the label “human” always comes before “porn star,” “actress,” “most Googled person in India,” or “item girl.” A woman’s value should not, and cannot, adequately be measured simply by her ‘commercial value.’ So, given that she exercised her agency, as part of her own free will, to enter the porn industry, there should be no cause for your counterfeit concern. In the words of Leone:
“I don’t have any horror stories. I wasn’t abused; I wasn’t beaten; I wasn’t molested; I wasn’t raped.”
Lastly, just as other viewers of this now-viral interview may have conveyed, Leone’s commitment to herself is admirable—to whatever and whomever she may have been or is working on becoming. Showing that we are all works in progress, Leone confirmed:
“I don’t really have any professional regrets. I have made mistakes just like anybody has or maybe made the wrong choice or wrong decision, but I learned from that wrong decision…Everything that I’ve done in my life has led me into this seat. So it’s a chain reaction that happens. Everything is a stepping-stone to something bigger or better. Or you want it to be bigger and better in life. That’s what life is all about.”
So, Chaubey, regardless of your poor conduct, do thank Leone for not walking away. Had she walked away, not only would you have lost this money-making assignment, but you would have also lost this newfound claim to destructive fame. After all, to steal from our friend William Shakespeare, “What’s in a name? That which we call [Sunny Leone or Karenjit Kaur Vohra] by any other name would [be just as singularly determined and boldly brilliant].”
Some more you-go-girl moments from Leone during the interview:
* “I am a human being. I’m also a human being that’s a woman. So I definitely get upset. I don’t show anybody that I’m upset. Ever…I wouldn’t want to give that person [who has said something nasty about me] the gratification of them knowing that they’ve upset me. Ever.”
* “I actually don’t care about anybody else’s inhibitions or what they’re insecure with if they want to work with me or not. It actually doesn’t affect my life at all. I work every single day and I’m very happy for that. So whether I work with ‘xyz’ or ‘somebody from this side,’ it doesn’t affect me because I’m still working.”
* “Usually negativity spuns from your own life and how you are. So I have no reason to hate you, and if you have a reason to hate me because of your views in life, then that’s your prerogative. You can do whatever you want.”
* To Chaubey: “Just like you’re paid to sit to talk to me, I’m paid to sit to talk to you.”
Nur Kara is a medley of Indian ancestry and East African heritage though also carry the labels of “female,” “Ismaili Muslim,” and “first-generation American.” Being part of refugee history and having lived through these various lenses inspires her to similarly share in others’ stories. A self-coined “skeptiste,” she questions the uncommonly questioned.
March 20, 2023March 21, 2023 4min readBy Nida Hasan
If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking.
I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.
— Smriti Mundhra
As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.
In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.
For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.
At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.
In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.
“Ghoomer,” R. Balki’s latest directorial venture, had its world premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2023 (IFFM), earlier this month, and the moment was nothing short of memorable. Lead actors Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi, were present to unveil their labor of love to the world, and all three were left speechless at the reaction of the global audience; the film received a standing ovation on opening night, leaving the team extremely emotional — a feeling that Bachchan tells Brown Girl is one he cannot put into words.
“Ghoomer,” tells the story of Anina (played by Kher), an exceptional cricket player who loses her right hand in an accident. Downtrodden and with no will to live, Anina finds a mentor and coach in Padam Singh Sodhi (played by Bachchan), an insensitive and brash failed cricketer who helps her turn her life and career around; Anina also has the unwavering support of her husband, Jeet (played by Bedi). Sodhi teaches Anina unorthodox techniques to make her mark on the cricket ground once again. Enter, ghoomer, a new style of bowling.
Balki checks all the boxes with this feature — his protagonist is a female athlete, the film is his way of giving back to cricket (a new form of delivery), and he highlights the idea that nothing is impossible for paraplegic athletes. The heart of Balki’s film is in the right place — Kher mentions that the film is meant to be more of an inspirational movie and less of a sports-based movie. One can only imagine the impact that a film like this would have on an audience that’s hungry for meaningful cinema.
And, to chat more about “Ghoomer,” Brown Girl Magazine sat down with the stars of the show. Bachchan, Bedi, and Kher came together to talk about their inspiring characters, the filming journey, and how their film aspires to change the landscape of cricket and paraplegic athletes in the country. It was all that, with a side of samosas.
Take a look!
The featured image is courtesy of Sterling Global.
It’s always a flamboyant affair of colour, emotions and grandeur when Karan Johar directs a film, and his latest blockbuster “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” is as K Jo as it gets. After recently being recognised at the British House of Parliament for 25 years as a filmmaker, Johar is back to doing what he does best — bringing together families and star-crossed lovers, but this time with a modern touch. He makes a decent attempt at showcasing progressive ideals and feminist issues while taking us on this family-friendly ride.
“Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani” is a larger-than-life film revolving around the love story of a boisterous Rocky (Ranveer Singh) from a wealthy Delhi family, and Rani (Alia Bhatt), a sharp journalist from a progressive Bengali household. And of course, despite belonging to completely different backgrounds and lives, our protagonists, in true Bollywood fashion, fall hopelessly in love through a string of slow-motion gazes, warm embraces and some truly breath-taking song sequences in Kashmir’s snowy mountains. They are then forced to face their opposing families which brings along the family drama in the second half of the film.
The plot is not the film’s strongest point — there’s no real surprise about what’s going to happen next, and yet the film doesn’t fail to keep audiences engaged and pack an emotional punch. This is down to its strong acting, witty dialogues and K Jo’s classic, beautiful cinematography.
Ranveer Singh sinks into the skin of his character with ease – not only does he make the hall burst into laughter with the help of perfectly-timed gags but he pulls off those dreamy gazes ,expected in K Jo’s heroes, to evoke that typical, fuzzy-feeling kind of Bollywood romance. Alia Bhatt’s intelligent and undefeated character is no less a pleasure to watch on screen — not only does she look breath-taking in every shot but her feminist dialogues earn claps and cheers from the audience as she brings a progressive touch to this family drama.
Albeit, while Bhatt’s dialogues do their best to steer this film to the reformist drama it hopes to be, some of Singh’s gags and monologues on cancel culture bring out bumps in the road. The film could have done better to reinforce its points on feminism and racism without using the groups it tries to support as the butt of jokes.
There is also a case to be made about how long these Punjabi and Bengali stereotypes can go on with often gawkish displays of Ranveer’s ‘dilwala-from-Delhi’ character among the overly-polished English from Rani’s Bengali family. But it is with the expertise of the supporting cast, that the film is able to get away with it. Jaya Bachchan in particular is as classy as ever on screen; the stern Dadi Ji holds her ground between the two lovers, while Dada Ji Dharmendra, and Thakuma Shabana Azmi, tug at our heartstrings showing that love truly is for all ages.
Saving the best to last, it is the film’s cinematography that makes the strongest case for audiences to flock to the cinema. The soul-stirring songs steal the show with their extravagant sets and powerful dance performances that treat the audiences to the much-awaited cinematic experience of a K Jo film. While audiences may already be familiar with the viral songs, “What Jhumka?” and “Tum Kya Mile“, it was the family-defying fight for love in “Dhindhora Baje Re” that really gave me goosebumps.
Overall, the film does exactly what it says on the tin and is a family entertainer with something for everyone. It will make you laugh, cry, and cringe at times, but nothing leaves you feeling as romantic as some old school Bollywood with a mix of new school humour, in true K Jo form.