She might be the most Googled personality of the year, trumping even Narendra Modi but something about Sunny Leone makes us very nervous indeed. When her film Jism 2 was released, her effigy was burned in public and PIL was filed to get the film banned because it “illegally” promoted a porn star.
The latest cloud in our Sunny skies is a Manforce condom ad. More specifically a condom ad tied to Navaratri.
“Aa Navratriye ramo, paraantu prem thi (Play but with love, this Navaratri)” it advises us while Sunny Leone looks on seductively alongside a pair of dandiya sticks.
The righteous citizens are in a righteous uproar. The Confederation of All India Traders has shot off a let to Ram Vilas Paswan, Minister of Consumer Affairs demanding the ad be banned. It is “putting all our cultural value system at stake” says the letter. And then it points an accusing finger at Sunny Leone herself. And her ample lust.
“The most irresponsible act of its Brand Ambassador Ms Sunny Leone is an ample testimony of the fact that in the lust of earning huge money, these Brand Ambassadors can go to any level irrespective of pious and religious occasion of Navaratri even.”
Manforce, of course, just wants to sell condoms whether during Navaratri or Christmas or any other time of the year. But let’s not hold them responsible for turning a “pious and religious occasion” into some festival of free sex. That is our hypocrisy.
Surveys have shown that condom sales do go up 25-50% during Garba season while Navaratri is in full swing in Gujarat. Oral contraceptive sales go even higher. It’s a time when young men and women can hang out together away from the prying eyes of mothers and fathers and nature follows the birds and bees. NGOs promoting safe sex have put up HIV awareness stalls at garba venues, handing out free condoms with leaflets. Condom-vending machines are installed in hotels by NGOs like Vikas Jyot Trust according to the Times of India. Even Anandiben Patel made a fateful comment once about abortions spiking in Gujarat a few months after Navaratri.
So why blame Sunny Leone as if she is the Pied Piper of sin leading our innocent youth astray?
The problem really is the billboard. We are a don’t ask, don’t tell society. Sunny Leone is our Goddess of the darkened movie theater or our private bedrooms. That’s where we hoot and shout and erupt in a communal wolf whistle as she rises wet and glistening from a body of water in Jism 2.
When Sunny Leone winks at us from a billboard on a busy highway as we are headed to work or a family dinner, we look away nervously. The other woman is stepping out of her Lakshmanrekha. Sunny Leone reminding us that we might have lustful thoughts during Navaratri embarrasses us even if the condom sales spike prove that she’s on the money.
The problem is not the sex. The problem is Sunny Leone openly telling us about it.
The CAIT, it’s worth noting, does not seem to think that Gujaratis having sex during Navaratri are putting “all our cultural value system at stake”. They think a Manforce condom ad saying that is what’s doing the dirty. They are not campaigning to clean up Navaratri and promote pure thoughts in the minds of the revelers. They just want to ban a Sunny Leone ad for condoms instead, a clear case of shooting the messenger. “This cannot be tolerated and our protests will get stronger if these hoardings are not removed immediately,” says Narendra Chaudhary, president of Hindu Yuva Vahini.
There’s nothing new about this either other than Sunny Leone’s celebrity. Back in 2003, the Times of India was running stories about aggressive marketing of condoms near popular garba venues. Anandiben Patel’s comments about abortion date back to 1999-2000. But Sunny Leone in 2017 makes for a far more newsworthy target in this particular version of a Swacch Bharat drive.
“The insinuation on the hoardings from a condom brand insults the religious sentiments of Hindus,” says Chaudhary. It’s not clear whether that means Hindus don’t use condoms. Or are Hindus not allowed to have sex during Navaratri? Of course some ads can offend our sensibilities.
In a world where a Jawed Habib salon ad showing the Goddess Durga going with her family for a spa day makes some Hindus see red, there will likely be no love lost for a condom ad pegged to Navaratri . But blaming Sunny Leone and Manforce for our lack of Navaratri self control is a little rich. In this case we are being rather thin-skinned about it all. Just like the best condoms. We might not appreciate that Navaratri sees a rise in condom sales but why make Sunny Leone a scapegoat for our hormones doing the dandiya?