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Porn star-turned-Bollywood princess fascinates filmmaker Dilip Mehta

Mostly Sunny, an intimate, thought-provoking documentary about the beautiful, 35-year-old Canadian-born porn star-turned-Bollywood sensation, opens Friday in Halifax at Park Lane Cinemas. Director Dilip Metha's latest film is already on its way to the universe through Netflix and iTunes.
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Mostly Sunny
Sunny Leone, a Canadian-born porn star-turned-hit Bollywood actress, performs in Bollywood in Dilip Mehta's documentary Mostly Sunny, opening in Halifax on Friday at Park Lane.

Bollywood starlet Sunny Leone cut movie director Dilip Mehta from her Twitter feed, but only after the movie about her was made.

Mostly Sunny, an intimate, thought-provoking documentary about the beautiful, 35-year-old Canadian-born porn star-turned-Bollywood sensation, is already on its way via Mongrel Media to the universe through Netflix, iTunes and commercial cinemas. It opens Friday in Halifax at Park Lane.

Mehta, whose big sister is award-winning director Deepa, is unfazed by the Twitter-verse rejection.

In many ways, he's amazed Sunny and her husband, musician, business partner and former porn star Daniel Webber, gave him such unrestricted access for so long, particularly as Sunny's career started to skyrocket in India with hit films like Jism 2 and music videos like Pink Lips. 

“The caveat was she would bare all, no pun intended,” says Mehta, in a phone interview from his Toronto home. “We had to be terribly honest with each other, and she was. She never cut the roll. That happened later; we are no longer friends.”

The problem goes back to the movie's world premiere last fall at the Toronto International Film Festival. As Mehta recalls it, “the day before the world premiere, Sunny Leone was in Manhattan and I said, 'Why aren't you here in Toronto?' "

She told Mehta she disliked the partial frontal nudity scenes.

“I said it's akin to my doing a film on David Beckham and not showing him doing football. You gained your notoriety and fame because of adult entertainment. She said, 'If you won't remove it, I won't show up.' I felt maybe she was trying to reinvent herself.”

mostlysunny3Director Dilip Mehta filmed Bollywood star Sunny Leone on set in India as part of his documentary Mostly Sunny.

A photojournalist-turned-filmmaker with movies like Cooking with Stella and The Forgotten Woman, Mehta was fascinated by the quirks in Sunny Leone's life. How does a child raised by Indian immigrants in Sarnia, Ont., become India's most Googled celebrity for five years running?

Her social media statistics are staggering: 104,000,000 Google results; 1,160,000 Twitter followers; 17,780,000 Facebook likes; 34,200,000 YouTube views. Even Osama bin Laden had her videos in his Pakistan home.

“I was very curious about why she is so popular in a country like India, which is steeped in tradition and religion,” says Mehta, who works in both Toronto and New Delhi.

“I still have not figured out why. Yes, she's attractive. Some of the other Indian actresses are far more attractive. They dance better, they act better. None of them take off their clothes. That's the attraction.”

Mostly Sunny is not a titillating exposé and passes no judgment. “A lot of people walk out of it with different points of view of what they've seen and that, for me, is success,” says Mehta.

The film is puzzling in its contrasts: Los Angeles and Mumbai, the exotic Bollywood costumes Sunny wears and the hard-working, hand-beading labourers in India's slums, the fictions of Bollywood versus Indian reality, even the fiction of Sunny Leone, herself, who is really Karenjit Kaur Vohra. Her husband says Sunny is a “brand.”

“My responsibility is to be a mirror. It's very much a fly-on-the-wall approach,” says Mehta. “There is no Dilip Mehta asking questions; there's no voice of God syndrome.”

mostlysunny2Raised in Sarnia, Ont., until she was a teenager, Sunny Leone is a fun-loving 35-year-old woman whose career as a porn star-turned-Bollywood princess fascinates Dilip Mehta, director of the documentary Mostly Sunny.

Leone comes across as the girl next door, a friendly, fun-loving young woman who believes in family. It's just that her career choice is unusual.

After her family moved to Orange County, Calif., she posed for Penthouse at the age of 18, stole her brother's name of Sunny and became Penthouse Pet of the Year, then a star in the adult entertainment industry.

The money appealed to her and she has no moral qualms about her career choices..

She does, however, feel rejected when she visits Sarnia to skate and see her childhood home and the Sikh temple where her parents worshipped.

“She is not shunned by the entirety of the Indian community,” says Mehta. “I think she is shunned by people who are the age of her parents; their sensibilities are different.

“Her parents' friends in Sarnia would have nothing to do with us except for that one woman who wouldn't talk about her profession. They held her responsible for her mother becoming an alcoholic and dying. Her own parents didn't condemn her.”

A younger generation of children of Indian immigrants are inspired by her. “She's become a role model for people who've seen there are alternate professions in life, not necessarily by the way of being in adult entertainment, but alternate ways.”

Mehta loves Leone's brother, who mourns the death of both his parents as deeply as his sister does. “I love his support of his sister, no matter what. In many ways, it is a very Indian film. I am Indian and family plays a very important role.”

dilip Dilip Mehta, an award-winning photojournalist who turned to filmmaking with Cooking with Stella, worked with his sister Deepa Mehta on his documentary Mostly Sunny.

Mehta's own sibling, Deepa, is a creative consultant and co-writer with Dilip and producer Craig Thompson on Mostly Sunny, with executive producers Thompson and David Hamilton, who is Deepa's husband and producer.

“We help each other tremendously and I value her contributions immensely, whether I ask for them or not, but hey, we are siblings,” says Mehta, who was production designer for Deepa's movie Midnight's Children. “We are the only two, we're very close. She's the first person I turn to to say, 'Hey, I'm stuck' and I listen to her.”

Their father was a film distributor and owned cinemas. While Deepa went into film, Dilip went into photography and had a very successful career as a photojournalist shooting for magazines like Time and National Geographic and winning the World Press and Overseas Press Awards for his five-year photographic coverage of the Bhopal tragedy.

When he was at the top of his profession, he decided he needed a change. “I was shooting in the Maltese, a cover story about global warming for Time magazine. Very early in the morning, I was taking a shot with my assistant and I looked through the camera and I felt I had taken the picture before. He said, 'Mr. Mehta, you haven't,' but I said, 'I feel I have.' I just felt now's the time to move on."

Now writing a feature film, he loves the world of filmmaking, as tough as it is.

“Every day is a challenge. If it's not a challenge, I say to myself, 'Something is wrong'.”



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