In 2012, Google revealed that the number one most-searched-for person in India was Sunny Leone. She launched a million incognito browser windows and is now a household name. In fact, she continued to top the search charts for the next six years and even beat the Prime Minister in the year that he was elected.
Karenjit Kaur Vohra, a.k.a. Sunny Leone is a Canadian-Indian actress, a former porn star and Penthouse 'Pet of the Year.'
She made her way into the zeitgeist and stayed there as a popular Bollywood actor, brand ambassador and businesswoman, making sure that it was 'always sunny in India'.
This is the story of the woman behind the persona, the trials and tribulations she faced on the winding roads to stardom. From her family's reaction to her career choices, dealing with backlash from the community and ultimately facing the demise of her parents.
This is her story, as revealed in the Netflix documentary Mostly Sunny, and Zee5's ten-episode web series, Karenjit Kaur: The Untold Story of Sunny Leone.
They trace her journey growing up as a young Sikh girl in Canada with conservative parents to moving to the United States and becoming a rising star in the adult entertainment world at age nineteen.
She moved to Los Angeles and started a highly lucrative career doing nude photo shoots and adult films. As her fame rose, her photos landed a spot on the wildly popular Penthouse magazine, right in the centrefold. This led to a barrage of hate mail from the Indian community, calling her a disgrace to the community.
Going out and buying every copy of the issue where her parents lived, she did her best to keep her career a secret from her family and only confided in her brother Sunny Vora, who was completely supportive and whose name she stole for her stage persona. Soon enough, a family member had seen her appearance on the Howard Stern show where she was more than candid about her newfound notoriety.
As it almost always does in Indian families, word of her career choice soon spread to relatives, the extended family and beyond. She ultimately decided to tell her parents the whole truth, making sure to bring attention to the $100,000 she had won as a 'Penthouse Pet of the Year'.
After what seemed like an eternity of silence and right before a torrent of tears, all her mother could muster was, "You were naked?!"
Her father, despite being upset about her secrecy, told her to 'own' her decision and do her best in life. Recalling the difficult moment, she said, "Reverse psychology always happens and that was definitely the case with me and my parents. They were thinking that if they forcefully stop me, I might just gain more curiosity and then I might not return from that world."
Her parents started getting shunned from the extended family as the news made its way around. This only made matters worse for her mother, who was already struggling with a full-blown alcohol problem and went further down the path as a way to cope.
In 2008, her mother was hospitalized after a major seizure. She stopped drinking and began her recovery which didn't last very long. Sunny watched her mother pass away as she gave her the last dose of morphine. More bad news followed, as her father was diagnosed with cancer and eventually died of complications. Bringing them to their final resting place, she dispersed her parents' ashes in the Ganges which she frequently visits to ask for their blessings.
She started a family of her own with her husband Daniel Weber, who manages her personal brand, business and career as a Bollywood actor. In 2017, she became a mother to three children. After waiting for two long years to adopt, they were finally matched with a child. On the same day, they also learnt that they were having twins through surrogacy.
In her newfound role as a mother, she says, "I want them to be good people who do not hurt anyone physically and emotionally. I may or may not agree with their choices in life but as individuals that is their choice. I think all I want as a mother is that my children should not go through such hatred from the society that I faced."