When a TV journalist asked a popular Bollywood actress whether she was "lowering the level of the fine art of cinema" because she used to act in porn movies, the interview went viral and many Indians jumped to her defence.
In a country where racy kissing scenes in films can get censored, it's remarkable that Sunny Leone, a Canadian-born former porn actress of Indian origin, has been able to build a whole new reputation - and fan base.
After the interview aired over the weekend on a television news channel - including questions such as, "Pardon me if I'm being offensive here: How many people would dream of growing up to be a porn star?" - the criticism was immediate and widespread.
Leone, 31, was India’s most-searched-for person online in 2015. In the past three years, she has seamlessly journeyed from her porn-star past to a stint on a TV reality show to a successful career in the Indian film industry. She has acted in a murder thriller, a horror movie and an upcoming sex comedy.
But the journalist, Bhupendra Chaubey, peppered her with aggressive questions about her past as “a porn queen.”
"If I was to turn the clock back, would you still do what you did?"
“Do you not sometimes get affected by the fact that your past ... will continue to haunt you?”
“Some are accusing you of literally lowering the level of the fine art of cinema.”
"Do you believe that ... it’s your body that will ultimately take you everywhere?”
Leone answered the questions calmly, insisting that she had no regrets and that she did not find anything “vulgar” or “wrong” with her former line of work.
“Everything I’ve done in my life has led me into this seat, ” Leone said. “Everything has been a stepping-stone to something bigger or better.”
Although Chaubey's questions met with more criticism than approval, they do represent India's complicated attitude toward sex. India may be the land of the Karma Sutra, not to mention the world's third-biggest consumers of porn content. But the government censored a scene from the James Bond movie Spectre because the duration of the kiss was “too excessive.” And it recently issued a controversial order blocking a number of porn sites, although the order was quickly repealed amid protests.
Leone's unapologetic stance does confound some in India but also may help explain her appeal: “Leone never offers the victim narrative. She owns her work completely and emphasises that it has always been her choice and no one ever forced her into it, ” the filmmaker and writer Paromita Vohra wrote last year.
During her interview with Chaubey, she said: “I don’t have any horror stories – I wasn’t abused, I wasn’t beaten, I wasn’t molested.”
Here's hoping Mr Chaubey's next interview explores something other than his own prejudice.— Vir Das (@thevirdas)
In the whole Sunny Leone story, lets spare a thought for the real victims:Bhupendra Chaubey's female colleagues who have to face him everyday— IndiaSpeaks (@IndiaSpeaksPR) — Rana Ayyub (@RanaAyyub)