Released on Netflix, Dilip Mehta’s documentary on Sunny Leone offers insights into the price of stardom

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Released on Netflix in India May 1, Mostly Sunny, Dilip Mehta’s documentary on Sunny Leone, is well-crafted and dignified, offering insights into Bollywood’s slimy underworld, the adult film industry and the price of stardom. Its peach-skinned subject, however, remains out of reach.

Born Karenjit Kaur Vohra in snowy Canada, Leone moved with her parents to California in her mid-teens. She joined the adult film industry a few years later. Now in her 30s, and the most Googled celebrity in India for the fourth year running, Leone’s Barbie doll voice and hot curves make her seem more CGI than flesh-and-blood. Her husband and sometime co-star, Daniel Weber, is a handsome, tattoo-bedecked version of the same. They are Mr & Mrs Cho Chweet-all surface, no shadows. It’s only when we’re introduced to her younger brother Sundeep that a genuine heartbeat enters the frame. As he irons his white chef’s jacket, he talks quietly and without drama about the permanent scar Sunny’s career path left in his family’s life. He loves his sister, he says, his ascetic’s face etched in pain.

Suhel Seth delivers a sneery lecture on the princess who won’t talk porn. Dr Kiran Bedi hate-rants about YouTube videos which “do not behove (sic) a human”. But Leone’s personal assistant Hitesh’s devotion is touching and real. The scenes of him threading his way through filthy back-alleys to the tiny, darkened sweatshops that produce her glittering costumes were, for me, the best parts of the film. Marci Hirsch, whose adult film company, Vivid Entertainment, Sunny worked for, praises her: she was professional, focused and knew what she wanted.

Yes, there are Bollywood dance numbers and a few tantalizing glimpses of the adult film world, but this is essentially a sober story about making hard choices in a cold world. For all her brave claims, Ms Leone has not yet transitioned to regular stardom.

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