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What THAT Sunny Leone Interview Shows About Indian Society

02/02/2016 8:37 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Canadian Bollywood actress Sunny Leone poses as she hosts Indian television reality show MTV Splitsvilla 8 What Women Love in Mumbai late June 30, 2015. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

CNN-IBN journalist Bhupendra Chaubey received a lot of flak for his recent interview with Sunny Leone. In a blog he wrote in his defence he acknowledged that at one stage Sunny felt that it was more like an interrogation than an interview. As a viewer, it certainly felt like an interrogation, one reeking of sexism. However, while one would expect better from a seasoned journalist like Mr Chaubey, several questions asked by him merely reflected existing prejudices against women.

For instance, when Mr Chaubey asked Sunny if her "past" was well and truly a thing of the past, it appeared as though he was anticipating that she would have a sob story to share. He mentioned her successes only fleetingly and chose to harp on all the negativity he had absorbed from the media and his "Twitter timeline". The reality, however, is that Sunny made a conscious decision to work in the adult entertainment industry in the US. As she highlighted during her interview, she had neither been molested nor raped. She had also not been coerced into doing the work she did. In fact, she was proud of her "past" and did not feel the need to justify it in any way.

Who can forget Shah Rukh Khan displaying his six-pack abs in "Dard-e-Disco"? The only difference is that Shah Rukh Khan will never have to face such questions...

Mr Chaubey went on to ask Sunny if she thought of herself as an actor or an "item girl". He elaborated by enquiring if Sunny was just selling her face and body. Like "eve-teasing", "item girl" is a phrase that we have coined and now use routinely as though it is a universal concept. Perhaps Mr Chaubey has forgotten that leading male actors in Bollywood have done a number of so-called "item songs". Who can forget Shah Rukh Khan displaying his six-pack abs in "Dard-e-Disco" from the movie Om Shanti Om? The only difference is that Shah Rukh Khan will never have to face such questions, asked in the most offensive manner possible.

Just when I thought the questions could not get any more absurd, Sunny was asked if she would ever be seen in a sari. With a smirk, the interviewer added that a sari has its own charm. Well it does for sure. But what is charming and what is not is personal opinion. In a seemingly desperate attempt to prove his point and to the dismay of trend analysts I am sure, Mr Chaubey tried to draw a parallel between Sunny's entry into the Indian entertainment industry and an increase in porn viewership in the country.

Even today when a woman is raped, questions are raised about her attire, lifestyle and the company she keeps. A rape survivor is often blamed for inciting the heinous crime by dressing in a particular way or being out late at night. That, however, is nobody's business. As a society, we need to appreciate that women can and do make all kinds of choices, just like men. Instead of digging for dirt we need to respect the choices they make without attaching moral judgements. We also need to realise that it is our deeply engrained regressive mindset that results in discrimination and atrocities against women. Pinning the blame on the clothes a woman wears or the profession she follows is not going to help. It is not Sunny Leone whose emergence on the Indian scenario has destroyed society's moral fabric or taken away innocent husbands from their wives, a concern which the interviewer claimed several Indian "housewives" had raised.

It is not Sunny Leone whose emergence on the Indian scenario has destroyed society's moral fabric or taken away innocent husbands from their wives...

The icing on the cake was Mr Chaubey's question about whether Aamir Khan would ever work with Sunny Leone. He justified his question by providing several pieces of evidence that he had gathered from the media about mainstream actors having inhibitions about working with her. As Sunny quite rightly pointed out, how does it even matter who works with her and who does not? She comes across as a confident woman who has lived life on her own terms. Why then does she need an endorsement from anyone? Sunny, of course, is not the only female actor whose success is judged by the male actors she is paired with. In fact why single out Bollywood, women, in general, are often defined by the roles they play in society -- mother, sister, daughter, wife etc. It appears that we still find it very difficult to accept that women are human beings first.

Assuming that the interview was not a publicity stunt, it was one of the most disgraceful displays of sexism by a journalist on our television screens. However, while the interviewer's conduct in this particular instance must be condemned at all costs, it is important to remember that until we as a society collectively work towards weeding out the deep-rooted biases against women, history will keep repeating itself.

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