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from www.nationalpost.com – Despite the protests, effigy-burnings and vicious reviews arising from her first foray into Bollywood, Indo-Canadian actress Sunny Leone announced she is moving to Mumbai to cement her unusual crossover from hard-core porn to Indian cinema.
In a country where on-screen kissing is still frowned upon, the Sarnia, Ont., woman’s entry into the mainstream is being touted as evidence of India’s sexual liberalization.
“I think right now I am in a position, which is like a crossroad.… There are moments which change your life and I think this is that moment,” Ms. Leone told the Hindustan Times.
The star of dozens of adult films including Descent into Bondage and Debbie Does Dallas … Again, Ms. Leone made her non-pornographic debut in August with the Bollywood erotic thriller Jism 2.
The film is tame by Western standards: It features no frontal nudity and all love scenes discreetly take place under the sheets.
Still, the content was headline-grabbing in India, where couples can still be prosecuted for public kissing, Playboy magazine is banned and Bollywood studios are known to boast about their refusal to include kissing scenes.
In 2007, Richard Gere ignited a flurry of protests and obscenity charges after playfully kissing a Bollywood actress during an anti-AIDS event.
Jism 2 received a similar reception. At Amritsar, protesters burned a crude effigy of Ms. Leone and the film’s director. In Bhopal, members of the hard-line Hindu organization Bajrang Dal tore down movie posters and prevented audience members from entering a Jism 2 screening. In Mumbai, promotional posters had to be taken down after municipal officials complained.
“She is ruining the psyche of 12-year-old boys in India, who are now doing Google search on her after reading about her pornographic escapades and seeing her on telly,” Indian actor Amar Upadhyay told the Times of India in January.
Nevertheless, Jism 2 is only the latest Bollywood film to push boundaries with skimpy clothing and extended French kisses. After all, despite scattered religious outrage, the film was able to get past censors with only the Indian equivalent of an “R” rating.
The Indian edition of the Daily Mail called Ms. Leone’s “warm reception” an indicator of Bollywood’s “liberal shift in mindset” — something that even seems to have surprised the starlet herself.
“I didn’t think the Indian public would actually like me,” she told The Associated Press in August. “I’ve done everything that I could do wrong in the Indian culture.”
Last week, Ms. Leone confirmed to Indian media that she had purchased a house in the Mumbai suburb of Andheri and had reportedly hired a Hindi language coach (her lines in Jism 2 were dubbed by an Indian actress) and a dance teacher to walk her through the intricacies of Bollywood dance numbers.
The 31-year-old first entered the Indian spotlight with an appearance on Bigg Boss 5, the Indian version of the reality show Big Brother. From the outset, her porn origins have made her a fascination for Indian tabloids, particularly given the oft-cited fact that she was raised “traditionally” in Mississauga and forbidden from wearing short skirts.
During her porn years, even the Adult Video News noted how rare it was for a woman of Indian descent working in the adult industry.
While Jism 2 earned a tidy $6.6-million profit in India, the film had limited release in North America, partially due to its name. “Jism” means body in Hindi, but in North America, the word is generally used as a colloquial term for semen. That, and Ms. Leone’s starring role, got the film blacklisted from the Apple store.
For the Western critics who did get a copy, it was generally panned. The Hollywood Reporter was particularly nasty, saying “the most controversial Hindi film of the year is also the worst.”