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#EkPaheliLeela: Sultry Sunny Leone speaks exclusively to the UKAsian

Once upon a time, in a far away land lived a curvaceous beauty who delighted millions. 

Considered raunchy, inappropriate and slammed for objectifying women, the criticism had little effect on her.

The trailblazer that she is, Sunny Leone continued to put in her best efforts and soon carved a name for herself in Bollywood.  Known for her head-strong attitude and determination to succeed, Sunny truly strikes a balance between a stupendous body and a fragile heart.

In her short career in the ‘mainstream’, the sensuous 33-year-old has dazzled in three Hollywood films, has six Bollywood credits under her belt and five more under production. 

Born Karenjit Kaur Vohra, Sunny was first seen in India on the small screen way back in 2005 as a reporter for MTV India.  She was already hugely popular in the adult film industry in North America and it was only a matter of time that this Indo-Canadian beauty would spread her fame far and wide. 

Sunny first entered India’s conscience after she was invited to participate in Bigg Boss – the Indian equivalent of Big Brother – in 2011.  Her presence sparked “outrage” among “social activists” and so-called moral goalkeepers. 

The protests only resulted in giving Sunny extra mileage as she took the nation by storm.  TV execs celebrated her as ratings went through the roof.

Her popularity was merely enhanced by her sincerity and she won millions of hearts.

That charming connect with the audience didn't go unnoticed - veteran filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt made an appearance on the Big Boss house and offered Sunny her first film role, in the romantic thriller sequel ‘Jism 2’, which was directed by Bhatt’s daughter Pooja.

While the film wasn’t a critic favourite, her fans lapped it up and sent the cash registered ringing across India.

Such was the craze surrounding Sunny Leone that she was subsequently roped in to do an item number in the John Abraham-starrer ‘Shootout at Wadala’ – the song was a chart buster.

Critical acclaim however, wasn’t too far round the corner as she won plaudits for her role as  a femme fatale in Kaizad Gustad’s ‘Jackpot’. 

Sunny shook the box office again in 2014 with Ekta Kapoor's ‘Ragini MMS 2’.  The film had an earth-shattering opening weekend and was one of the biggest hits of the year.  The film will also be remembered for its unforgettable anthem ‘Baby Doll’.

Now the actress is set to scorch through the big screen again in Bobby Khan’s directorial debut ‘Ek Pehli Leela’, a whole new take on the mythological Leela.

I sat down for a chat with the beauty, exclusively for her UK fans.

Dallya Sachdeva: Tell us about your role in the film and the kind of preparation you had to do.

Sunny Leone: I play a model from London who gets conned into flying to India for a photo shoot.  There I meet a prince who I fall in love with and marry.  My character has been reincarnated in the present and my co star Jai Bhanushali brings out the truth of my past life.  There was prep time for Leela.  Just creating Leela on the first day took six hours of trial and error.  The dialogue was not easy and we would spend time learning the lines.  You’ll know why when you see the film.  In some way I relate to my characters - Leela is a strong and bold woman who doesn't care for what the world thinks.  She only cares for her love and for what is right. 

DS: What was the experience like working on such a big budget film with a debutant director?

SL: It was wonderful.  This is a story he has put a lot of time and effort into and didn't compromise on anything.

DS: You’re fast establishing yourself in Bollywood.  What kind of expectations do you have when you make films now?  There’s already award buzz around it.

SL: My wish is that people like it and the producers make the money back that they put in to the film.  I believe it has the potential to be big but then I am biased because it's my film.  I don't know about awards but if my fans are happy with my acting then that is my biggest reward.

DS: Bollywood can be a notoriously ageist business but you’ve enjoyed such huge success even after entering the biz at the age of 30.  What do you credit that with?

SL: Well, I am young in the Bollywood world that's all that matters to me.  However long it last is up to my fans.

DS: Do you think the fact that you were a big name in the adult film business helped or hinder you?

SL: I think a bit of both.  It helped me because I had already made a name for myself but has been a negative in certain ways because I have baggage that I can’t ever erase.

DS: What was your upbringing like and tell me how you fell in love with India?

SL: I grew up in a typical Punjabi home and went to temple every Saturday and Sunday, even sang Gurbani every weekend.  The first time I visited India I was very little – visiting relatives.  The first time it was all about smells and new tastes and candy.  I didn't realise the magnitude of where I was or what it symbolised.  And I never imagined just how much I would achieve in this country.

DS: Your husband is your rock and he’s also making his Bollywood debut soon.  Both your careers are taking off...let me ask a typically Indian question – what about kids?
SL: In the future for sure.  When that is I have no idea.  At this moment it's all about building our careers.

DS: You’re out and about all over India on promotions.  Tell us, what does Sunny Leone do in her own time?

SL: Well I don't have much of that.  But I would fly back to LA for 3-7 days and be with my family and dogs whenever I can. 

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#Magic: Kailash Satyarthi – De-Mistifying the Nobel Laureate

Kailash Satyarthi was 55 years of age when he first had the opportunity to pose for a picture with a Nobel laureate - nearly three decades after he began his crusade against child slavery in his native India.

It was a "magical" moment, the 60-year-old tells me. 

So these days, the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner doles out magic without hesitation to those who want to take a picture with him - and the stream of eager fans is unrelenting, from fellow Nobel Laureate Barack Obama to journalists who usually eschew taking pictures with interviewees. 

He is de-mistifying the Nobel Laureate.

With Mr Satyarthi there is none of the posing tactics employed by "celebrities" - no glancing away at the distance, no attempt at flexing facial muscles to get the stare just right, and when he drapes his arm around your shoulder there is genuine warmth in his embrace.

He's had nearly forty years to perfect that embrace, one which has provided instant comfort to the innumerable innocent men, women and children he's saved from servitude in India since giving up a career as an Electrical Engineer in the early 1980's to establish Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA - "Save Childhood Movement").

Mr Satyarthi and his grassroots campaign have since spearheaded the fight against child slavery in India, which is home to nearly half of all the world's child slaves - a battle that can only be compared to trying to paddle a boat made of Papier Mache into an approaching tidal wave.

India's capacity to thrill and inspire is matched only by its ability to leave you utterly dismayed and hopeless - from the depraved treatment of its women, the desperation of its poor to the scene of a man clad in just a pair of old boxer shorts being lowered into a filthy sewer to clean out a blockage with his bare hands which I witnessed during a visit to Delhi some years ago. 

Just because, as an "untouchable", society required him to do such work.

It is the sort of depravity that Mr Satyarthi has witnessed first-hand during his work with BBA over the last 32 years, saving India's most down-trodden, most desperate and most hopeless.   

And yet the one quality that he exudes above the myriad others - serenity, dignity, wisdom, ad infinitum - is his unbridled optimism.  

Alfred Nobel meant for the prize named after him to honour those who "encouraged fraternity between nations, who worked for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".

In the age of Islamic State, of unilateral military action, of "shock and awe" and of record defence budgets, the Nobel Peace Prize is given those who promote the hope that Alfred Nobel held so dear.

Few embody that sense of hope than Kailash Satyarthi.

I caught up with Mr Satyarthi as he prepared to deliver the key note speech at this year's British Asian Trust gala.

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#Magic: Kailash Satyarthi – De-Mistifying the Nobel Laureate

Kailash Satyarthi was 55 years of age when he first had the opportunity to pose for a picture with a Nobel laureate - nearly three decades after he began his crusade against child slavery in his native India.

It was a "magical" moment, the 60-year-old tells me. 

So these days, the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner doles out magic without hesitation to those who want to take a picture with him - and the stream of eager fans is unrelenting, from fellow Nobel Laureate Barack Obama to journalists who usually eschew taking pictures with interviewees. 

He is de-mistifying the Nobel Laureate.

With Mr Satyarthi there is none of the posing tactics employed by "celebrities" - no glancing away at the distance, no attempt at flexing facial muscles to get the stare just right, and when he drapes his arm around your shoulder there is genuine warmth in his embrace.

He's had nearly forty years to perfect that embrace, one which has provided instant comfort to the innumerable innocent men, women and children he's saved from servitude in India since giving up a career as an Electrical Engineer in the early 1980's to establish Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA - "Save Childhood Movement").

Mr Satyarthi and his grassroots campaign have since spearheaded the fight against child slavery in India, which is home to nearly half of all the world's child slaves - a battle that can only be compared to trying to paddle a boat made of Papier Mache into an approaching tidal wave.

India's capacity to thrill and inspire is matched only by its ability to leave you utterly dismayed and hopeless - from the depraved treatment of its women, the desperation of its poor to the scene of a man clad in just a pair of old boxer shorts being lowered into a filthy sewer to clean out a blockage with his bare hands which I witnessed during a visit to Delhi some years ago. 

Just because, as an "untouchable", society required him to do such work.

It is the sort of depravity that Mr Satyarthi has witnessed first-hand during his work with BBA over the last 32 years, saving India's most down-trodden, most desperate and most hopeless.   

And yet the one quality that he exudes above the myriad others - serenity, dignity, wisdom, ad infinitum - is his unbridled optimism and hope. 

Alfred Nobel meant for the prize named after him to honour those who "encouraged fraternity between nations, who worked for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".

In the age of Islamic State, of unilateral military action, of "shock and awe" and of record defence budgets, the Nobel Peace Prize is given those who promote the hope that Alfred Nobel held so dear.

Few embody that sense of hope than Kailash Satyarthi.

I caught up with Mr Satyarthi as he prepared to deliver the key note speech at this year's British Asian Trust gala.

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#MELANCHOLIC: ‘The Lunchbox’ – UKAsian Review

Befitting the gentle pace of its plot, Ritesh Batra's 'The Lunchbox' has finally meandered into cinemas in the UK.

Along the way the film has vowed audiences at Festivals from Cannes through London and Dubai, whilst also sparking an almighty row over the decision by the Film Federation of India to not send it to the Academy Awards as the country's official selection in the Foreign Language Oscar category.

All the buzz surrounding the film seems terrifically out-of-place, for 'The Lunchbox' is, at its core, a thing of quiet beauty, resplendent in its subtlety, frail, melancholic and utterly exquisite.

The title, as many now know, refers to the remarkable 'Dabbhawallahs' community of white-capped men who keep millions of Mumbaikars productive by delivering hot home-made lunches to offices across the teeming metropolis every day.

As one of the men proclaims, the system has a rate of failure of just 0.000001% and Batra's film is concerned with that solitary silver lunchbox in a million that goes astray.

Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a dutiful Mumbai housewife subjugated by her mundane life: she's invisible to her apparently overworked husband and is a virtual prisoner in her poky apartment with just a neighbouring "Aunty-ji" for occasional company.

Ila attempts to bring back some romance into her marriage by using her culinary skills but her lunchbox is delivered to the wrong office one day.

The fortunate and pleasantly surprised recipient is Saajan Fernandez (Irrfan Khan), a dour and lonely insurance claims executive.

Saajan is about to retire and goes through the same tedious motions he has done for the past 35 years. He's a widower who shuns any form of companionship, sitting alone in a sea of chattering clerks during lunch and shooing away the neighbourhood kids.

When Ila discovers that her concoctions have been heartily devoured, nay licked clean, by the wrong person, she is silently delighted that someone has enjoyed her travails in the kitchen and encloses a note the next day, gently opening her heart to this complete stranger.

At first Saajan is stern and grave in his responses but as the notes travel back and forth, the shackles are broken and a beautiful, strange intimacy develops between the two. The notes become the highlights of their otherwise perfunctory lives, a means of sharing their innermost thoughts and desires.

Ila is egged along by her disembodied Auntyji while Saajan is nudged out of his shell by his garrulous apprentice Aslam Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), an orphan with modest ambitions and blessed with oodles of charm and optimism.

It's a story with universally recognizable themes - from unrequited love to the bewilderment of old age - that becomes uniquely Indian under the skilful direction of Ritesh Batra.

As the relationship between Ila and Saajan develops leisurely Batra uses the chaos, vibrancy, humour and prejudices of his hometown to lift the narrative. The director spent a number of years researching for the film and it clearly shows; every scene, every word and every action has a terrific authenticity to it.

The performances by the lead actors merely add to that sense of the narrative being firmly grounded in reality.

The stunning Nimrat Kaur is a revelation, beautifully capturing the crushing defeat of a woman with an indifferent husband and scarce few choices in life. Siddiqui is excellent as usual, at first taking his charm to the very edge of oily smarminess before winning over Saajan with his sincerity.

Ultimately, 'The Lunchbox' belongs to Irrfan Khan whose embodiment of Saajan Fernandez is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The script provides Khan nothing in the way of an angry proclamation or an abrupt physical movement to work with but he delivers a performance of astonishing subtlety.

His emotions are sparse and barely discernible but deeply evocative and extraordinarily melancholic: whether it's the ever-so-slight gasp at his first taste of Ila's perfectly-cooked beans or his vacant expression as he sways and trudges home to his lonely existence.

It is the performance of a lifetime and more than worth the exorbitant price of entry and a dehydrated hotdog at your local multiplex.

'The Lunchbox' is a delightful and utterly compelling debut by Batra who leaves it to the audience to judge Saajan and Ila's fate with a bittersweet ending.

The film is the perfect riposte to the inane escapism that Bollywood offers and proof positive that films which tell simple, universal stories about love and its eternal promise of salvation will resonate with audiences everywhere.

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#HomoEroticBromance: ‘GUNDAY’ – The UKAsian Review

Male Bollywood friendships often border on the homo-erotic with the introduction of the female character serving as a catalyst to highlight the sexual tension between the two buddies. From as early as ‘Andaz’ (1949) to the current day, this theme has proved popular, usually addressed within the context of a …

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#KRRISH3: The UKAsian Review – THE KISS OF KRRISH!!

Krrish

It should be called ‘Krrish 2’ but director Rakesh Roshan is probably paying tribute to Sylvester Stallone who called the third film in his ‘one man army’ series ‘Rambo 3’ even though the previous two films were called ‘First Blood’ and ‘Rambo’ respectively. Like its title, ‘Krrish 3’ makes no …

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‘The Lunchbox’: The UKAsian Review

British fans of Irrfan Khan, director Ritesh Batra, Indian Cinema and – perhaps more importantly – those who’ve never heard of Irrfan Khan, Ritesh Batra and whose idea of Indian cinema was limited to Bollywood escapism, rejoiced this weekend at the news that Batra’s ‘The Lunchbox’ would get a theatrical …

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