Karenjit Kaur: The Untold Story of Sunny Leone review: A confused biopic!

Sunny Leone’s journey from an awkward, unibrowed teen in Canada to adult industry darling in Los Angeles to Bollywood actress in Mumbai has all the elements of a sensational story. 

More than her struggle or success, it’s a stoic ‘so what?’ attitude that set it apart. But Karenjit Kaur: The Untold Story of Sunny Leone — a 10-episode Web series on streaming platform Zee5 — is too confused a biopic to appreciate its subject’s undaunted spirit or explore the intricacies of unconventional fame.

A keen mind would explore Leone’s unapologetic ambition and eroticism in an atmosphere of moral scrutiny, sexual repression and social alienation. But director Aditya Datt seems to be heavily inspired by Madhur Bhandarkar’s school of sensibilities.

Given such perspective, the infamous Bhupendra Chaubey interview of 2016 is tailor-made for overstatement and Datt doesn’t miss any opportunity to milk the hostility and laud Leone’s compulsions.

In a cringe worthy recreation, Chaubey’s condescension turns into full-fledged disgust whereas Leone’s serene response is enhanced to reflect the hot-selling wisdom of quick think pieces. Raj Arjun, Zaira Wasim’s cruel daddy in Secret Superstar, is woeful, almost unwatchable in his overemphasised display of snobbery. The man strains himself so hard; I am surprised he didn’t fall off the chair.

On the other hand, Leone plays herself and involuntarily shows the difference between person and performance. In her case, it is the lack of latter the biopic regularly suffers from. 

As she recalls episodes from her teenage, 20s, 30s, there’s no real sense of growth or time. Barring a cell phone, there’s no conspicuous effort to explain a decade, its mood or trends. Much of this flimsiness stems from a haphazard timeline that moves on whim and resists focusing on any one chapter of Leone’s life.

Between a Chaubey clone drawing parallels between porn stars and prostitutes, Leone’s friend urging her to ‘remove her flower’ and get over her ‘stinky, stupid values’, brother Sunny (a phone call from him inspired her professional name) peddling autographed pictures of his Penthouse Pet of the Year sister who turns down a million dollars to study paediatric nursing only to later admit ‘making money always makes me happy’, the picture to emerge is staggeringly erratic.

Throw in an unemployed father, alcoholic mom, gossipy relatives, nasty boss, lousy boy friend, offended best friend, contrived racism, token sex and the Sunny Leone soap drags on and endlessly in no particular direction. 

Things feel less phony around Rysa Saujani. As the 12-year-old Karenjit, the bright-faced youngster offers some glimpses in the life of a dissatisfied NRI kid raised by a conservative Sikh family. Both Grusha Kapoor as the grumbly housewife and Bijay Anand’s silently suffering significant other adequately bring out the embarrassment and distress prompted by their daughter’s professional pursuits.

Few exceptions aside, Karenjit Kaur is exploding with dreadful acting and awful dialogues.

Whatever impression Leone’s so-called rebellion, experiments, failures, secrets, (bi)sexuality and hard-to-digest success is striving for is immediately diluted by an unsteady narration and contradictory stance.

Who is the real Sunny Leone? 

Someone who feels good about herself by indulging in cheap payback? Someone who responds to criticism with grace? Someone who does things out of social pressure? Someone trying to provide for her family? Someone who enjoys what she does? Someone who is not sorry? Who knows! Karenjit Kaur: The Untold Story of Sunny Leone is too boring to celebrate her, too dull to criticise.

Rating: 2

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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