by Shreevatsa Nevatia
Sunny Leone is the first to confess that she is not a writer. Facts, however, contradict this humility. Juggernaut first released '7E', a short story by Leone, on April 22 this year. In the weeks since, her collection of erotica has become the highest selling title on the publisher's smartphone app. Physical copies of Sweet Dreams will also be made available in bookstores soon. Leone describes the entire process as "nerve-wracking". She says, "Writing is very different from learning lines for a film. You don't get a retake if your performance isn't up to scratch. My writing is out there for you to judge."
When reading Leone's twelve erotic stories, you can't shake off the feeling that you're in Mills and Boon territory. There certainly aren't any Fifty Shades of Grey collars and chains to be found here. In her defence, the actor confesses to being a romantic. "I like the idea of two people falling in love. Being physical then becomes a part of getting to know someone." In the story 'Dancer', for instance, a software engineer coughs up $45,000 to take home a striptease artist. By the end, though, the protagonists are spending more time dating, while giving their families quality time. In Leone's fiction, love is sometimes a cause and sometimes an effect, but it almost always remains a constant.
Explicit details, feels Leone, do not serve as a catalyst for the imagination. "I think a lot more women like romance, and I wrote these stories as I would want to read them. I wrote it like I saw it." The sex in Sweet Dreams might not be novelistic, but it certainly is adequately sensual. A dependable exponent of suggestion, the former adult film star teases with lines such as this - "The touch of the soft cotton on my skin always made me feel good. I wore my saris braless at home." There's an obvious Indianness which marks Leone's many references, and she is quick to explain, "These particular stories were written for the Indian market and different aspects played a part - the country's rules, its regulations, standard of life, how people see things, men and women's bodies."
Characters in Sweet Dreams often have the perfect Bollywood body, but there are some rare exceptions. In 'New Year's Eve', Alia initially gets rejected by Asif for being fat. After six months at the gym, here is how we find them - "I began to moan - the non-stop rhythms of our lovemaking set my body aflame."
While in Leone's stories, bodies are often set on proverbial fire, there is one question that did need to be asked. Do bodies have to be a certain type for them to be combustible? "Sometimes what we see in magazines is unrealistic, unattainable and photoshopped. I think the modern woman doesn't fit into a size zero. For the most part, I don't even think that such a figure is attractive to the general public. Men in India like curves. Men here like a bit of cushion," she laughs.
Though the subversive potential of these stories can be debated, one fact remains certain - most women in Sweet Dreams invariably get what they desire. A senior executive gets a junior who is fifteen years younger. A lonely wife seduces her gardener. A divorced woman makes love to her neighbour. Since an 'F-word' lurks in the margins of the book, we asked if Sunny Leone was a feminist. "I don't like labels," she replied. "I don't say I'm a feminist. I see myself as a girl, a woman who wants to make her own decisions and create her path. So if that makes me something, so be it."
Of the many purposes that Leone's stories might serve, there is one that the author feels is cathartic in a way. They reveal commonly held secrets. "I think people feel could read 'The Gardener' and go, 'Oh, I did feel that way about my gardener once, but I didn't act on it.' Someone else might say, 'I have acted on it, but I haven't told anybody.' I think when you finally say things out loud it helps you connect with people." Sometimes, though, the things that Leone's characters say seem stereotypically filmy. A mother tells her daughter, "You run. Run and don't stop until you are in his arms".
In 'The Cinema', Leone's favourite from her collection, Rajesh tells Kamana she'd have to wait for him for he still had to make a man of himself. "Bollywood is an escape. People live vicariously through actors they see in films, those they read about. The book is an extension of that imagery."
For all her bashfulness, Leone did, for most part, live the life of a writer for four to six months. Her publisher had set her an impossible deadline she had to adhere to. She would get her work critiqued by a friend in the States. Her husband, Daniel Weber, would read all her drafts and ask some pressing questions. In the end, though, she does feel glad she did it her way. That said, the newest author of erotica strangely admits she has only read one erotic work. "When you're on a film set, surrounded by people, reading Fifty Shades, you'll giggle your way through it, right?" Similar reactions can be expected from colleagues who'll perhaps never confess to having 'sweet dreams'.
This was previously published in Film Companion.
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