Sunny Leone is known for smashing the proverbial glass ceiling. In conversation with Team Box Office India, the actor-producer looks back at the last seven years of her film career, her three children and dealing with detractors
You have worked for seven years in the industry. What were your perceptions about the Hindi film industry before you became part of it, and how much have they changed over the years?
My perceptions about the film industry were in line with the picture that my parents had painted for me. We saw a girl wearing a mini-skirt in the movies, but I was not allowed to wear a mini-skirt. When you are entering a new entertainment industry, it is always very, very different. It is completely different from your perception of what it is actually going to be like.
I had no idea what I was getting into. I also think that people’s perception of me is not always correct and my perceptions, obviously, were not correct either. I thought everybody was going to hate me and I would not be able to work here. I thought I would work here for a couple of weeks and then fly back to the US. But I am still here! (Laughs) So it is nice.
Legendary actor Mammootty’s Madhura Raja released last week. How did the film happen for you?
One day, I got a call from my team who told me about the song with Mammootty. Who would say ‘no’ to working with the South superstar and legend Mammootty sir?
Your last film, Tera Intezaar, released in 2017. Was it a deliberate decision to stay away from films in the last two years because you wanted to concentrate on your digital project, Karenjit Kaur?
Well, that did take up a lot of time. It was not something that was done on purpose; it just happened that way. It took up a lot of my time and energy. I also came up with my cosmetic line. There are so many other things that Daniel (Weber) and I do, that my team does, other than films. After the last few films, Daniel and I thought let us stop for a second and evaluate some of the wrong decisions we may have taken.
We only have each other; we have no one else helping us and the options out there are not always as vast for us as they may be for someone who comes from a film background or some of those people who are really amazing at being social butterflies (Laughs). They are so social and good at meeting people. I am not that person. I try to be but I miserably fail at it. I have a few films that are going to come out this year, for which I will start shooting. So we will see how it goes. (Smiles)
What made you think you were going wrong somewhere?
The box office numbers! It is very simple. I am a numbers person; I always have been. When certain things were not working out, I wanted to look at why they were not. I believe that most actors know if their films are going to work. It’s a feeling you get. We had no idea what was going wrong and the direction in which we were headed. Like I said, I have no one who could tell me about the reputation of a person and the person I should be going to. There are times when people say they are going to do something but they deliver something completely different. What I read on paper and what I then see as a film are very different from each other. That is something I cannot control.
As a person, as a human being and as an actor, I have to believe that the people I am working with have the same intentions as I do, the same goals that I want to achieve, and have genuine intentions to make something amazing so that I understand their craft and their business.
I am not the producer; I am the actor that you have hired who believes that a story is nice when I read it on paper before someone gives me an elaborate, detailed narration. Sometimes, a narration is completely different from the story that I read. (Chuckles). This is fair enough because some people are great storytellers but that does not always necessarily translate into something that looks good as a film.
So you have experienced a sad Friday?
I have had many. You know this already. You are Box Office India. (Laughs). If nothing else, I have learnt so much from some of my choices of films but, more than anything else, what has come from the good and the bad or the sad Friday and a happy Friday, is so much more. Between all the businesses and things that Daniel and I have our hands in, there have been so many positive things that I can say that it has been an amazing journey. There have been many more good Fridays than sad ones. (Smiles).
That’s great. So, what is your criterion for choosing films?
The script plays the most pivotal role for me. I have to love the story, everything else is secondary.
So, coming to Karenjit Kaur, was it emotionally taxing to bring your personal story out into the public domain?
Oh, absolutely! It was not easy. But, again, when I read it on paper, I felt like it could not be all that tough. I thought, ‘What’s the big deal?’ I told those stories. All the stories that are in both these seasons, they are real stories. Those are real things and situations. In a lot of different places, we have real dialogue. Those were the things that my family actually had said to me or I had said to them or conversations between my brother and I and with my friends. There are a lot of those conversations in the film that are real. I am not saying all of them are real but what I am saying is there are sections that stayed pretty much the same.
Yes, it was extremely difficult. It was hard. It wasn’t fun. It took me a long time to snap out of it and not be depressed and sad. In between all that, I had three kids and, as a mother, you cannot be sad, upset or depressed around your kids. You cannot harbour feelings like that, especially when you are in front of them. There are times when all you want to do is crawl into a corner and cry at the end of the day. So, yeah, it was emotionally very draining.
What is your list of dos and don’ts when it comes to social media?
When it comes to social media, there are no dos and don’ts that I follow, but the only thing I do is keep away from negative comments and negative people.
And, along the way, you had many detractors and trolls. What keeps you motivated to stand your ground?
I do not think there is something like motivation. I think there is just this simple truth, that they don’t know me and I don’t know them and so, I can’t let people like them affect me. Certain things do affect me, like when certain media outlets highlight a completely ridiculous story. Those are beyond ridiculous stories and they are given so much importance. That type of stuff does irritate me. Sometimes, I know the journalists who are writing nonsense about me. I mean, great if you don’t think I am a good actor or you think I made a bad film or you think my acting was horrible; you can tear apart a movie and that is fine. But there are certain lines (I think that should not be crossed). There are relationships that you build with journalists, there are certain personal lines, and when people get into that personal space, it is hurtful and mean. Then I get offended. But does the general public talking nonsense affect me? Not really! (Giggles)
You are an actor and you have a production house now. Is direction on the cards too?
Acting is the most important thing for me right now and launching a production comes with a lot of responsibilities but I have an efficient team to take care of that. I am content with acting. I have not given direction a thought but as they say, never say never.
You published an e-book in 2016 called Sweet Dreams. Any plans of writing another book?
Not yet. Right now, my schedule is so hectic that I don’t even have the time to breathe. But in the near future, if I get some free time, I surely plan to write one.
You recently launched your official cosmetic line called Star Struck. You said you wanted your daughter to take it forward…
(Cuts in) Well, she is going to do whatever she wants to do. If it flourishes into something that big, then that will be her choice in life. But she loves make-up. Today, she walked into my room when I was doing my make-up. She was sitting with my make-up artiste, putting on make-up, doing swatches, testing make-up and looking at different things. It is so funny! She is a typical three-year-old who is very much into make-up.
We launched the cosmetic line last year, right after my boys were born. It has done amazingly well and we are shipping our products all over the world. Every time we launch a new version of something, a new lipstick, a new line or a lip gloss, we sell out. So that feels really nice (Smiles). I know that our products are good and I have tested all of them on my face. Except for the foundation, all the other products are mine. So I test it on myself before it goes out into the market.
What is motherhood like? How are you balancing it with your career?
Our life has changed for the better. This is like the biggest hit story of our lives. It is always nice to see Nisha acting as an elder sister. We are doing the best we can and I think we are doing just fine. We are managing and discovering something new every day.
Last year, on Mother’s Day, you announced the arrival of your twins. Coincidentally, it was your birthday too. What is special about this year’s Mother’s Day?
This Mother’s Day, I am shooting for Splitsvilla in Rajasthan. So I will be celebrating it on the sets of the show and will have all three of my kids with me.
What is your advice to all the young girls who aim to be in the entertainment industry?
If you want it bad, you will have it. Nothing is impossible. You have to be disciplined, persistent and true to your craft and you will surely make a way for yourself.
What are your upcoming projects?
I am currently working on two South films. I will start shooting for the next season of Splitsvilla. Apart from that, I will soon start my home production. I have also signed another film in the horror-comedy genre.