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Pride Month

Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee: ‘My sexual orientation has nothing to do with my artistic roots’

Print edition : Aug 04, 2022 T+T-

Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee: ‘My sexual orientation has nothing to do with my artistic roots’

Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee

Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee | Photo Credit: DEBASISH BHADURI

Interview with Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee, interdisciplinary artiste.

Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee is a well-known interdisciplinary artiste who has carved a niche for himself in the world of culture and entertainment. In an interview with Frontline, he spoke about the challenges and prejudice he still encounters as a queer artiste. Excerpts:

You have managed, as a queer artiste, to carve out a place for yourself in mainstream entertainment. What has been your main challenge?
My main battle as a queer artiste is not different from the challenges anybody faces to survive and make do in society. The main challenge is coexistence. My situation is different from that of a transman in a mofussil town. His challenge is one of existence; mine is of “transcendence”. By that I mean my struggle to make people aware that my sexual orientation has nothing to do with my artistic roots. As an actor my challenge is to make the director believe that I can audition for an alpha male or a hyper-masculine character, like any other actor. And I have done that. I have played a wheelchair-bound grey character in a web series called Nokol Hiray, which was a big hit for Hoichoi (popular Bengali streaming service). But did I get more work from Hoichoi after that? I did not. I played a villain in Bidai Byomkesh, a mainstream feature film (2018). Did I get cast in more such projects after that? I did not.
Again, in Srijit Mukherji’s Shahjahan Regency (2019), I was congratulated by critics and viewers alike for my performance. Srijit himself told me that my role as the gay housekeeper had won national appreciation. But was I nominated for an award? I was not.
Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee in Srijit Mukherji’s ‘Shah Jahan Regency’.
Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee in Srijit Mukherji’s ‘Shah Jahan Regency’. | Photo Credit: YouTube Screengrab
So you feel you are a victim of prejudice. Then how come you are still so busy?
There is definitely a lot of prejudice. But in spite of it, I have achieved all that I have because I did not restrict myself to the film industry. I am a brand beyond them. I started my career in performing in alternative arts spaces at a time when people did not want to move out of the proscenium. In 2002-2003, I was performing in bookstores, cafes, multiplex lobbies and so on. In 2004, when Mahabanoo Modi-Kotwal was doing TheVagina Monologues productions in the proscenium, I was doing it in a bookstore. Though it was non-proscenium, I was still breaking a lot of stereotypes by doing that. 
The fact that I am a multidisciplinary artiste also helps. At the moment I’m doing wardrobes for a Bengali feature film; I’m doing acting supervision in films; I’m designing ceramic accessories for an exhibition; I’m doing stage readings; I’m doing poetry solos and elocution, and there is a huge demand for my performances.
Your fashion sense is distinctive and is often talked about. Are you aware of its impact? 
A lot of people want to stigmatise me for wearing androgynous clothes, but the majority see it as a style statement. I’m glad that I see people not only emulating my style but also finding it liberating to wear my kind of clothes. I’m absolutely OK with a man wearing a saree; but if I were to wear one, I would drape it in a completely different way, that a woman would not even think of. In fact, I’m coming up with my own clothing line, which is unisexual.
A still from ‘Nagarkirtan’ (2017).
A still from ‘Nagarkirtan’ (2017). | Photo Credit: YouTube Screengrab
How do you react to the way queer people are typecast in cinema and plays?
I think Kaushik Ganguly’s Nagarkirtan (2017) is the first mainstream Bengali film which addressed the concept of binary in gender. Before that the idea of a feminine man was  looked at as something to be ridiculed. The mindset that is prevalent today can be roughly divided into three categories: one, I’m absolutely OK with queer people living in society. Two, I’m OK with it, but I like to keep away from them. Three, there is blatant homophobia. I can tell you there is a huge amount of homophobia in the theatre community as well. 
But a transition is taking place. Some years ago, at the National Theatre Festival organised by Nandikar, my solo play, “Happy Birthday”, was selected—a queer play written and enacted by me. I remember Rudraprasad Sengupta going up on stage and saying there ought to be more “texts” like this in Bengali theatre. People loved it. Now, if I have to do “Happy Birthday” again, I will possibly need to rewrite the play.