Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee has a multi-layered vocation. He is an ideator – a term he coined himself for conceiving , executing and presenting cultural programmes of every imaginable kind on a public platform. “Ideator” means one who creates ideas and Sujoy has most certainly excelled on the ideas platform that defines a performance genre unto itself. He is an anchor, a commentator, a recitation artist, a vocalist in a manner of speaking, an actor in films and stage and last but never the least, he has just made his debut as a dancer. Whew! He writes the press notes of his programmes himself that are attended by a niche audience exclusively on invitation.
His stepping into the cultural world of Kolkata has opened new windows for the Kolkata cognoscenti of art, literature, song, music and dance in different ways. Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee is a man on a mission, set to fulfill them all, one desire a time. Sujoy is an acclaimed elocutionist and an interdisciplinary artist. Armed with his Honours degree in Economics, he could have opted for a plush job in the corporate sector but for some reason he cannot quite finger, “It was culture that pulled me to this commitment of conceiving, organizing and executing different forms of cultural programmes,” says Sujoy.
He began with a programme that comprised of recitation of extracts from some powerful women characters from the novels of Rabindranath Tagore 14 years ago. He roped in eminent personalities like Rituparna Sengupta, Rupa Ganguly, Anasuya Majumdar read out the extracts. That drew attention to the ideator, a roly-poly, very fair and baby-face Sujoy Prosad then just hitting in mid-twenties. The programme was a grand success and marked the appearance of a handsome and talented young man into a territory no one had tread on before.
The rough edges, if there were any, were smoothened with another sterling programme in celebration of the memory of the great Begum Akhtar and her music organized by Sujoy in October 2014. The premise of the evening’s storytelling was excerpts from Rita Ganguly’s memoirs, which were beautifully shared by PR specialist and author Rita Bhimani, theatre personality Dolly Basu, actress and personality development consultant Nivedita Bhattacharjee and theatre actress and culinary expert Chef Sanchayita Bhattacharya Alam.
One excellent programme followed the earlier one as Sujoy marched from triumph to triumph, introducing the first ever festival of Monologues in the city which, he claims, is the first such festival in the country. In the first year, this was a real festival that ran for four days.
Another memorable programme he ideated, conceived of and organized was Future Footprints: Obhijatra, presented by Future Media School. It comprised of a performance-centric journey through the past and future of the traditional theatre forms that employ impersonation such as Ramlila, Krishnattam, Raslila, Therukuttu, Bhavai and jatra, a popular folk theatre form of Eastern India.
On one of his annual Monologue festivals named Ekaa Ebong Ekaa, among other eminent performing artists, Sujoy invited Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal, the much- acclaimed comedienne and theatre actress will offer her solo act of Shirley Valentine, a play by Willy Russsell. The vivid and witty voice of Shirley Valentine, a middle-aged and put-upon housewife narrates her epiphany in this influential and comic monologue that explores personal and sexual identity. This outrageously smash-hit comedy, edged on a heart-warming poignancy was lapped by the packed audience.
Sujoy is the only child of parents. his father having passed away soon after he organized his first programme on Tagore’s Women. Over time, he shed his heterogenic mask and revealed that he is indeed gay. “I discovered my alternative sexual preferences while I was doing college. I did not have any boyfriend at that time but engaged in casual escapades with “straight” mean, some of them married. Curiosity played an important role in this realisation. I am neither shy nor afraid of my sexuality but I do not like to wear it on my sleeve either,” he explains.
His ‘explanation’ took concrete form in his one-act play he wrote, directed and acted in himself. The play is called Happy Birthday and he has performed in Calcutta and Toronto to slowly reveal, layer by layer, his alternative orientation about sex. His close friend and sister Anuradha Sen, settled in Canada, encouraged him to shed his inhibitions of dressing the way he would love to and since then, he can be seen as an embodiment of a walking-talking fashion statement. He wears colourful kurtas and jackets, lots of bead necklaces and bracelets and struts about every programme with the confidence and the open-ness the years have given him.
“I wrote Happy Birthday two years back out of a certain need, which I can identify with now. I guess I wanted to disrobe my soul. Yes, the play is partly autobiographical, but I didn’t write this to seek empathy. Rather, I want my audience to go back and address the elephants in the room. I would want the youth, particularly students, to watch this because they are ultimately the change-agents. Their take on sexual choices, gender construct, and abuse and, emancipation is what matters. I would want to stage the play in campuses to build a spectrum on gender issues. I do not intend to be preachy but this play helped me to love myself and not just others,” says Sujoy
It is a semi-autobiographical play. I know many like Rony, the hero, who have faced abuse all their lives and couldn’t protest. I, for instance, was ostracized in school and even in Delhi, where I went to pursue my higher education. This play is my socio-political statement on what is happening around me and to people like me,” adds Sujoy, who plays Rony Happy Birthday is a coming-of-age story of an individual.
“Anuradha-di helped me come out of my closet and thankfully, my close friends took care of me and looked after me not only for my gender preference but also for my commitment to art,” he adds. “At school I had a girlfriend but gradually I discovered that my sexual orientation was different from others. This orientation has helped shape my cultural life and functioning to a large extent giving me a deeper perspective on things. The Journal of South Asian History and Culture has published a paper on Happy Birthday explored and analysed by academic researcher Kaustav Basu.
Sujoy has also performed roles in some significant films like Bela Sheshe opposite Rituparna Sengupta, a film that won important awards and also in Amar Mayer Biye, a satiric comedy for television. As this goes online, news filters in about a short film Sujoy is playing in called Subarno Sen in which he plays the title role under the direction of Suman Adhikary who has also written the screenplay and the story. It is a psychological thriller that portrays the loneliness and the depression a middle-aged man is sucked into when the depression evolves into a case of multiple personality disorder. The film is yet to be released on Internet sites but was launched recently in the city.
Sujoy has a long way to go and gather more creative skills, expertise and ideas for different segments and aesthetics of cultural streams to spread across the people. The only issue this writer has is that all his programmes are devoid of a mass audience which also means that the perpetuation of performing arts and aesthetics tends to remain confined within a narrow world. Perhaps, a little reflection and introspection into these areas might help create a wider audience.
Written byShoma A. Chattterji
Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author based in Kolkata. She has 20 published titles, has won the National Award twice and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rotary Club of Kolkata Metro. She has done her post-doctoral research on cinema and has juried at national and international film festivals over time