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Social Media Slams India's Judgmental Journalist

Screenshot of Interview of Sunny Leone by Bhupendra Chaubey of CNN-IBN

Screenshot of Interview of Sunny Leone by Bhupendra Chaubey of CNN-IBN

Indo-Canadian Bollywood actor, model and former porn star Sunny Leone has been subject to a number of controversies in her career, but the latest one — even though it revolves around her — is hardly about her. Instead, it questions the standard of journalism in India.

When the Bollywood star agreed to be interviewed by Bhupendra Chaubey, a journalist with the Indian TV channel CNN-IBN, who approached the conversation with the expression of mock seriousness and a little defiance on his face, little did she realize it would raise a series of questions about Chaubey's journalistic ethics.

Leone started her career as an adult entertainer before entering Bollywood in 2012, a fact that the actor has had no qualms about admitting. She has since worked in a number of Hindi movies, following her first stint in Bollywood with the commercially successful Jism 2. Leone has become a household name, but not always for the right reasons — she is the most searched Indian person on Google, a position she held for three consecutive years — 2013, 2014 and 2015. Paromita Zohra at Youth Ki Awaaz explained:

The number of fans of her various Facebook pages total nearly 15 million. Yet, while images and videos earn plenty of likes, there are hardly any comments on posts. The media compounds this by constantly reporting on her with reference to her past work as a porn star (or, as she prefers to call it, adult entertainment professional), thus providing no fresh persona – a Sunny Leone of the Hindi films, distinct from her earlier avatar.

Journalist Chaubey proved he is no exception. During the interview, which aired on Indian television on January 15, 2016, Chaubey asked Leone a string of uncomfortable questions — which often had a misogynistic ring to them — revolving around the actor’s former involvement in the adult entertainment industry.

He began by saying, “Tell me one thing you regret.” When this could not make Leone express remorse about her past, Chaubey kept bringing it up, almost like an interrogation. Several other questions in the same moralistic vein were raised by the journalist, who came across to many viewers to be a little too judgmental for his job. Chaubey even made this sweeping statement: “There are some who believe that if Sunny Leone is becoming a brand ambassador of sorts for this new India, then it is a very dangerous trend to have.”

Leone maintained a brave face throughout the interview, answering every uncomfortable question with disarming humility. She made it clear, both to the journalist and to the audience, that she did not see herself as the victim of her past. “I don’t have any horror stories, I wasn’t abused, I wasn’t beaten, I wasn’t molested, and I wasn’t raped.” She was happy to acknowledge that every situation has had a role in brining her to her successful present.

It wasn't long before the interview went viral. Many Twitter users came out in strong defense of Leone, criticizing Chaubey's journalistic ethics and calling him out on his blatant sexism and the puritanical manner in which he conducted the interview.

Several netizens addressed Chaubey's chauvinism:

Some defended Chaubey's skepticism:

Many, including writer Shobhaa De, also came out in support of Leone, calling Chaubey a “TV bully”.

At one stage of the interview, Chaubey asked Leone if she thought that an actor as successful and widely popular as Aamir Khan would ever consider working with her. Leone responded with a “probably not” — but five days after the interview aired, Khan tweeted his admiration for Leone's grace and dignity in the face of unthinkable humiliation.

Many other Bollywood personalities have come out in support of Leone:

Inundated by online criticism, the journalist tried to provide an explanation in the form of an open letter which did little to repair the damage done. He stated:

We aren’t really going to the cinemas to watch her because she is a star. And I might just add here that I haven’t seen any of her Bollywood films. Because I have kids at my place, so I cant watch any of her films in her earlier avatar even if I wanted to. Sunny Leone is a newsmaker in her own right because of what was going on in her past, the circumstances she operates in today and the manner in which she deals with criticism which is bound to come her way.

Rohini Chatterji at the First Post reacted by saying:

In his defense too, he fails to understand that being a porn star, as perceived by many, cannot be considered immoral.

But the Twitteratti was in no mood to forgive Chaubey for his unkindness, misplaced moral uprightness, insensitivity and lack of willingness to make amends:

If journalism is primarily about news gathering, the purpose of this crucial job seems to have been lost on Chaubey in his mission to shame Leone for her past. His stance came across as nothing less than shameful to the many Internet users who made it clear, through their support for Leone and their unabashed criticism for Chaubey, that today's India has no space for prejudice.

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