I have spent the first half of today doing something entirely pointless. On the universal scale of Things Worth Doing, which ranges from curing Ebola to canvassing for the Congress party, I have come quite close to the latter by attempting to review the new Sunny Leone movie.
Some may still grapple with the fact that the former adult star has somehow become a bankable Bollywood actress, so much so that the Ek Paheli Leela doesn't feature a single well-known actor apart from her. Doing an objective and earnest evaluation of a Leone film is pointless because it's fairly obvious that her fans will watch the movie because she's in it, not because a lowly reviewer convinced them to.
Directed by Bobby Khan, Leone's latest release is a rebirth-revenge drama, in the classic Bollywood tradition of films ranging from Karz (1980) to Karan Arjun (1994). However, in terms of actual story, this film comes closest to Hamesha (1997), which you might remember as the Saif Ali Khan and Kajol starrer that featured this charming Michael Jackson rip-off.
But hang on, this treasure chest isn't as much of an open-and-shut case. Ek Paheli Leela actually stays true to the tropes of its genre, but makes up its own rules as it goes along. If you're planning to watch this movie for whatever reason (no judgement, guys; this is a safe space), these are rules that you need to know.
Without further ado and due apologies to Moses, here are this movie's own ten commandments:
1. Thou shalt not miss a single opportunity to lovingly focus on Sunny Leone's assets
Sunny Leone quit being an adult star nearly three years ago, but Bollywood has already made her the world's no. 1 'clothed' porn star. From her debut in Jism 2 (2012) to here, the way shots are taken and scenes are edited point to one singular agenda: to show off Leone's assets in the only manner that won't rile our otherwise oversensitive censors up. From the opening number 'Desi Look' onwards, every song (and costume) is an excuse to zoom into her cleavage or painstakingly highlight her bare thighs.
2. Thou shalt rehash the tired rebirth-and-retribution genre in order to justify your big-budget 'clothed' porn film
There is a plot, of course. Meera (Leone) is a supermodel of Indian origin from Milan, Italy (with a North American accent, of course). She is taken to Rajasthan for a shoot. Meanwhile, in Mumbai, a young music producer named Karan (Jay Bhanushali) has nightmares about being whipped in what eventually turns out to be Rajasthan, circa 300 years ago. He also dreams of a woman named Leela, who looks an awful lot like Meera. How does he know who Meera is? Because his cousin is the photographer on said shoot.
You've already figured the rest out.
3. Thou shalt save money by casting low-budget Jimmy Sheirgill instead of actual Jimmy Sheirgill
This movie features a Rajasthani prince named Ranveer Singh, but much to the disappointment of meta-lovers, the character has been played by Mohit 'James' Ahlawat. He is introduced as the member of the royal family of Jaisalmer, whose premises the shoot takes place in. It is a role that Sheirgill, who has played similar turns in the Sahib, Biwi Aur Gangster movies, could've played in his sleep. Ahlawat, in contrast, is the Xerox copy that may or may not get rejected at the passport renewal office.
4. Thou shalt introduce gay character only for purposes of homophobic caricature
UK-born VJ Andy, seen on Channel [V] and the seventh season of Bigg Boss, plays an openly gay man who... does... something related to dance shows and organises shoots for... stuff (okay, maybe I missed something here). Anyway, as far as the movie is concerned, it is not what he does for a living that's important. Andy's job is to be the gay guy, pure and simple. This means lots of animated hand-waving, overreacting in the presence of attractive men, and opportunities for low-brow jokes made by comedian Ehsaan Qureshi, who plays Prince Ranveer's right-hand man.
"Sunny Leone quit being an adult star nearly three years ago, but Bollywood has already made her the world's no. 1 'clothed' porn star."
5. Thou shalt always depict alcohol as a substance that makes people unrealistically stupid
Sometimes it really seems as though Bollywood thinks alcohol and LSD are basically the same thing. In an early scene, Meera, out and about in London after four measly beers, asks why she didn't just start with the fourth one instead of having three beers before that (I don't know; this was supposed to be a funny line). Later, she gets so drunk that, despite having a crippling fear of flying, she passes out on a chartered flight from the UK to India -- all the while believing that it is an airplane-themed restaurant.
There are no words.
6. Thou shalt continue the grand old Bollywood tradition of never knowing how music works, despite every film having music
Karan is a super successful music producer whose music is used in fancy shows all around the world. And yet, when he is shown recording his band, the instruments don't seem to be plugged into anything as they jam in the same room as the mixer. Not, you know, the other sound-proof room which is perhaps misleadingly referred to as the recording booth.
7. Thou shalt change Sunny Leone's accent and diction at will
A funny thing happens in this movie. As Meera, Leone speaks in her native Canadian accent. In the flashback sequences set 300 years ago that depict her as Leela, a feisty Rajasthani girl, her voice seems obviously dubbed by someone else, bringing some much-needed credibility to her performance in this portion of the film. However, as she stays back in Rajasthan for a month after the shoot wraps up, her accent suddenly becomes closer to that of the average urban Indian. How does that happen?
8. Thou shalt make Rajasthani structure look like ancient Incan/Egyptian/Aztec temple, because who knows the difference, amiright?
A lot of action takes place in a temple, which is shown to be sculptor Bhairav Singh's (played by Rahul Dev) workspace in the flashback. Here, he plans to install his greatest creation--a statue dedicated to Leela, whom he lusts for. High ceilings, giant statues, massive columns and a distinct lack of detailed, ornate carvings dominate this massive structure.
Yep, sounds Rajasthani all right.
9. Thou shalt subvert the genre by showing that rebirth doesn't necessarily mean they look the same
While Bhairav lusts for Leela, her heart belongs firmly to one of his apprentices, the handsome Shravan (Rajneesh Duggal). However, in the present, Bhanushali is shown to be Shravan's reincarnated avatar, which makes one wonder why it was only Leone who was re-born with the exact same face and body.
To the movie's credit, this anomaly is explained in the climatic scene, only in the laziest possible manner.
10. Thou shalt exploit Leone's looks and past, but not nearly enough for her fans
As I walked out of the theatre, a couple of teenagers next to me yawned loudly.
"Kya bore picture thha yaar," said one.
"Haan, kya pakau story aur kuchh achhey se scenes bhi nahi dikhaaya," replied his friend, lamenting the lack of steaminess in the film's sex scenes.
"Abey theek hai na, woh toh ghar pe bhi dekh sakta hai," replied the first one.
Again, no words.