AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Movie producers in India think they have a different formula for success. For decades, sex and nudity have been taboo in Bollywood films. So, the makers of a new film, a sequel called "Jism 2," made headlines when they cast Sunny Leone in the lead role.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "JISM 2")
SUNNY LEONE: (Foreign language spoken) I'm a Porn Star.
CORNISH: Not only does Leone play a porn star in the movie, the Canadian-Indian actress is herself a porn star. Billboards in Mumbai promised a scantily-clad Leone before they were taken down by the city's mayor. And the movie so riled some corners of Indian society that even before its release last Friday, Leone was being burned in effigy.
Aseem Chhabra is a film writer in New York. He writes a weekly column for Mumbai Mirror, and he recently shelled out his $14 to see the movie. Welcome there, Aseem.
ASEEM CHHABRA: Thank you.
CORNISH: So, before you tell us what you thought, give us a little context about why this movie has been so controversial in India.
CHHABRA: The fact of the matter is that Indian cinema is still censored very heavily by a censor board. You know, all Indians, no matter which language, nudity is not allowed. Indian films are now allowed to show kissing, which they've been doing now for 10-plus years...
CORNISH: But only 10 years.
CORNISH: It's fairly recently that you're seeing kisses in Bollywood films.
CHHABRA: Yes. And so this film does have a lot of kissing, but I think the producers wanted to get the audience more interested by showing these posters and sort of suggestive idea that, you know, there was going to be a lot of sex. Now, you cannot have a lot of sex because the censor doesn't allow it, but people are still curious because they thought maybe, you know, you have a porn star, so therefore, she has to do what she does very well in the West.
CORNISH: Well, we wanted to get some reaction from Indian movie-goers, so we sent a producer to wait outside a theater in Delhi and here's some of what we heard.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: It's not a kind of a movie which you can watch with your parents or family. It's not a family movie at all.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Actually, it was really slow and very boring and I was expecting something really good, very good suspense, but it was not up to that.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: We were thinking maybe, you know, the storyline would be very good or we would get to see a lot of racy things, but nothing's there. Sorry.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: Leone was the only motive of watching the movie, nothing else. Her acting was not that good, but she's hot, damn hot.
CORNISH: She's hot and the people are saying the movie is boring, so what did you think?
CHHABRA: Yes, she's hot. She's a terrible actress and the plot - I mean, there is...
CORNISH: We haven't mentioned it yet. The plot is that she's essentially a porn actress who was hired by intelligence agencies to lure an assassin.
CHHABRA: Right. But, you know, her being a porn star is completely immaterial. She could have been an Avon lady in the film, also, who was hired to lure an assassin. But the film is shot in Sri Lanka and it is lush and beautiful, but essentially very boring and that's clearly what's coming out. I mean, I'm hearing that the audiences in India are very - you know, they're bored.
In fact, there's a guy in a small town called Kampoor(ph) who went and filed a lawsuit last Saturday against the producers for deceptive advertising because he said that the posters suggested that there would be some nudity and there is none in the film.
CORNISH: OK. So there is no nudity, certainly no sex, but in the end, I mean, what does the conversation about this film say about where Indian cinema is and where the culture is when it comes to sex up on the big screen?
CHHABRA: India's changing in a very interesting way and rather fast. This is the 100th anniversary of Indian cinema and a hundred years ago, women couldn't even act in Indian films. Men used to impersonate as women and act. And so we've reached 100 years at the stage where there's a porn star who is acting in a mainstream film and, you know, the middle class Indians are having a conversation about it.
You know, she's been interviewed a lot in print media and television and so people are sitting in their living rooms with their parents and actually watching this woman being interviewed, which I think it says something about how the country's really changing and accepting sexuality issues and having a conversation around it.
CORNISH: Aseem Chhabra, thank you so much for talking with us.
CHHABRA: Thank you.
CORNISH: Aseem Chhabra is a film writer in New York. He writes a weekly column for the Mumbai Mirror. And I forgot to ask, what exactly does Jism mean?
CHHABRA: Jism means body.
CORNISH: OK. Thanks so much for explaining it all.
CHHABRA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.