I still remember that day quite vividly. It was back in 2012 that, on a lark, I wrote to Hugh Hefner, the iconic founder-editor of Playboy, stating my desire to be a cover girl of his popular magazine. His office was quick to respond…my inbox brought news in just a couple of days. My first reaction was disbelief! Would I really become the first-ever Indian girl to feature on the Playboy cover? To be honest, I didn’t quite believe it would ever happen until the cover shoot actually took place in Los Angeles. In his passing away last week, we have lost a trailblazer, someone who followed his bliss and his bliss led him to a billion-dollar fortune.
Hefner led a flamboyant, bold and often controversial life and projected an image that made him the object of envy for all males. The best takeaway from that—even granting all the less-than-savoury details brought out by investigative journalists and former bunnies—is that he created an empire by not conforming to the dogma set by self-proclaimed guardians of society but by acting on his optimum excitement, not just as the passing fad of a young man but consistently over the decades, almost creating a myth of ever-lasting youth.
Initially conceived as an adult print magazine, Playboy became both the pioneer and the last word in its genre—and a billion-dollar brand. Its popularity amongst its readers soared so high that its growth across the globe as a sinful indulgence was inevitable.
Once in LA, I found Hefner to be a charming gentleman. He was pretty amazed with my command over English and refused to believe I was an Indian. I told him most urban Indians speak decent English. Language wasn’t the point of discussion, though. India also understood sexuality much better than westerners, I told him—after all, we belong to the land of Kamasutra. He agreed unequivocally. Later, I received a hand-written note from him, with best wishes for an extraordinary future. It’s one of the best souvenirs I have ever received.
Hefner was 86 when I met him in 2012. My interaction with him was quite brief and precise. He was not present for my shoot, which took place at a vintage bungalow in LA. But during my stay at the Playboy mansion, I’d noticed Hefner being surrounded by young, drop-dead gorgeous models who seemed to enjoy every bit of his attention. It takes two to tango. Hefner loved having beautiful women around him, and they enjoyed being there.
My shoot experience was nothing short of a paid luxury vacation. I was pampered silly by Hefner’s staff and crew. Barring the photographer, everybody in that team was a young woman, each one of them a professional with a mind of her own. None of them looked at me as an object or a thing but as my own person, a spiritual being in a beautiful, exotic body. It’s this paradigm that made it very comfortable for me to express my sexuality.
The shoot turned out to be one of the most liberating experiences of my life, something I had not quite anticipated. Something within me changed tremendously post that cover shoot. It was a kind of shift in my consciousness. I had become aware of my limiting definitions and beliefs relative to nudity, freedom and morality. I then realised that the beauty of life is that it’s by itself meaningless. It’s the meaning we assign to things, people, situations and circumstances that frame and colour our experiences. I chose to give nudity a very beautiful meaning of unadulterated art.
How did my family react to my decision to be a Playboy model? Well, my mother’s reaction was neutral. She always encouraged me to explore my highest potential. My sister was proud of my accomplishment as she is broad-minded enough to realise that nudity is not vulgarity but a beautiful expression of one’s sensuality. I have done several movies in different languages, and have not given up on my dreams. I admire Sunny Leone, who, like me, has appeared on television shows like Bigg Boss and MTV Splitsvilla. I love her grace and the warmth she radiates. I’m glad she has become the heartthrob of the nation. I’m currently working on the production of short and feature films. I intend to associate with film-makers who choose to look beyond the obvious, and are intelligent story-tellers. They have to have an elegance of wisdom and a firm belief in freedom and integrity without which creativity cannot be soulful.(Hugh Hefner, Playboy founder, died on September 27)
(The writer, a Bollywood actress, is the first Indian to appear on the cover of Playboy)