(Canada, 90 min.)
Dir. Dilip Mehta, Writ. Craig Thompson, Dilip Mehta, Deepa Mehta
Starring: Sunny Leone, Daniel Weber
It takes a lot of spunk to headline a mainstream comedy about high rollers after starring in a film called Jism 2, but Sunny Leone makes no bones about it. The porn star turned Bollywood icon shows off her saucy side in Dilip Mehta’s new doc Mostly Sunny and while the actress is used to being naked, one suspects that this film is the most exposed she’s ever been. As Leone talks about her journey from being Karenjit Kaur Vohra in Sarnia, Ontario to Sunny Leone in Los Angeles, California, she strips away all the preconceptions that one might have about an adult film star.
From Penthouse centrefold to Pornhub click-bait, Sunny’s assets have been seen all around the world. Mostly Sunny even notes that she was the most-searched name in India three years running. Mehta’s doc chronicles Leone’s swift rise as interviews with the subject, her brother (whose name she stole as her stage moniker), and industry peers highlight her sex appeal, confidence, and charisma. Her career path took an unexpected turn as she made a unheard-of transition from American porn star into mainstream Bollywood one thanks to a breakout gig on a Big Brother-like reality show in India that gave her a chance to be frank about her career to tens of millions of viewers and create a story of a girl finding a new path. Her roles in Bollywood, as clips and interviews show, capitalised on her sex appeal as her come hither glances in costumes so scandalous that she might as well be naked gave her a wide mainstream audience.
The doc, for which Mehta shares a writing credit with his filmmaker sister Deepa, takes audiences from the windswept snow banks of Ontario to the cacophonous slums of India as the camera follows Leone and her entourage, revealing differing attitudes towards sexuality around the world.
Sunny’s journey began innocently enough with a few photo shoots to pay the bills, but as she speaks of earning tens of thousands of dollars (US) by the week in her early career, she reveals that there were opportunities ripe for commercial—and corporeal—exploitation, which she was smart enough to seize upon. Mehta’s doc reveals its subject to be a shrewd businesswoman. She’s bubbly and perky, but she’s certainly no idiot.
There would be little controversial about Sunny Leone if she were a man. Just look at the career of Canada’s own mega-producer Robert Lantos, who got his start in erotica before going on to lead a major distribution company before becoming the producer of Canuck hits like Barney’s Version and Remember.
Leone makes no excuses as she talks about the choices she made, and continues to make, as part of her ambitious career. Perhaps the most unexpected and effective moments come when Leone lets down her guard and speaks about her late father. These candid interviews illustrate a father who chose not to express shame in his daughter’s choice, and instead encouraged his daughter to make the most with her decision.
Interviews with Leone’s extended family, however, show that attitudes in her native Sarnia are not as progressive as they are elsewhere in the world. Her relatives refuse to speak about Sunny and treat her career as a stain on the community at large. For all the access to sex in the Internet age, Mehta’s doc shows puritan attitudes thriving in familiar places.
As with this year’s Canadian doc The League of Exotique Dancers, Mostly Sunny conveys the importance of owning one’s body and sexuality without any preconceptions or worries. Leone’s no-nonsense attitude is the stuff with which modest empires are made. Whether it’s oil or skin one trades, the doc inspires us to stand behind our convictions.
Read more about Mostly Sunny in our interview with director Dilip Mehta.
Please visit tiff.net for more information on this year’s festival.