There is little here in this 10-part series chronicling the rise of Sunny Leone from porn to Bollywood that we don't know already. Sunny, who is a beautiful, articulate and clear-headed woman in real life, has spoken about her sleazy past many times.
Karenjit Kaur... is more of the same, and not very well served up if one may add. Director Aditya Dutt is faithful to the original story ferreting out incidents and relationships from Sunny's childhood and teens in Canada with ostentatious honesty. Sunny's mother's alcoholism is also gone into in detail, probably because it serves as a good alibi for what Sunny chose to do with her life.
Alas, Sunny's mother is terribly played by TV actress Grusha Kapoor who stumbles, drawls and dodders all over the place. The relationship with her rebellious daughter remains at best, an over-the-top hammy version of what we saw in, say, Lady Bird recently. The response of a family to daughter who chooses to become a porn star needed to be tackled with far more sensitivity than this lengthy (though admittedly never dull) series has at its disposal.
Frequently, the series hops, skips and jumps over timelines to create a feeling of a life she did not choose itself. Repeatedly and perhaps expectedly, the series plays up the victim card. To her credit, Sunny strikes a pretty picture standing in postures of forlorn self pity. She looks pretty and is able to pass off as the younger version of herself in much of the saga, with ease.
However, the other actors just don't seem to convey Sunny's flouncy fluency. They fumble, they stammer and ham. Gosh, how they ham! Nonetheless, the young actor Karanvir Lamba, playing her brother, is able to convey plenty of the warmth between the siblings that lasts to this day.
But the series fails to give us an answer to the core moral conflict that characterizes the Sunny Leone saga. Is it right to become a porn star just because you need financial gratification, lots of it?
Journalist Bhupendra Chaubey had famously asked Sunny this question in his interview with her two years ago. He was mercilessly flailed by feminists and other supporters of the Sunny school of thought. Here in the series, Chaubey's character, played under an assumed name by Raj Arjun, who played the despicably sexist dad in Secret Superstar, provides a much-needed centrality to a plot that runs all over the place, sometimes so breathlessly that you barely get time to catch the emotions under the flow of words.
The series wears its 'adult' tag rather self-consciously with scenes of lovemaking and auto-eroticism (surprisingly clumsily conveyed by Sunny) popping up once in a while. At one point, while showing the childhood version of Sunny Loene (played by Rysa Saujani), an adversary in a karate combat is heard stating, "Lick my balls", when she would like nothing better than to kick them. The series seems trapped between a kick and a lick. Neither persuasive nor 'ballsy' enough to make its point.
The way the "sexy" portions show up reminded me of what director Paul Schrader says about the profanities in Sacred Games. They are used in this series as though the characters just discovered how rebellious it sounds rolling down their tongues.
Ironically, Sunny Leone playing Sunny Leone seems ill at ease with the sleaze.
Even more ironically, she chose to disassociate herself from the far more accomplished documentary on her life entitled Mostly Sunny, which was directed by Dilip Mehta.
Why? I guess we'll have to wait for the second interview with Chaubey for an answer to that.