A multifaceted artist with a zeal for activism
Kolkata-based interdisciplinary artist Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee has carved a niche for himself during his 15-year journey in the field of art and culture. He is also one of those kindled souls who, despite being aware of the challenges that lay ahead, peeled off his heterosexual mask and decided to ‘come out of the closet’.
Sujoy, you certainly wear many hats as an interdisciplinary artist… You are an ideator, conceiving and presenting different cultural programmes; an elocutionist; an actor, showcasing your talent on stage and in films like the highly acclaimed Bengali film Belaseshe. You are also credited to be the first male to read the Vagina Monologues…
I am a playwright. I wrote the semi-autobiographical one-act play Happy Birthday and essayed the role of Rony Das, the protagonist. I’ve had to face abuse and ostracism because of my alternative sexual orientation. Happy Birthday acted as an outlet for my angst and turmoil. It also enabled me to travel to Toronto, Canada. I have even introduced Kolkata’s only solo arts festival – the ‘Monologues’.
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Art and fashion and music
You are also a teacher imparting knowledge in various disciplines and now you are curating for your own fashion line, Aatosh.
I always knew that my artistic pursuits would not be limited to the stage. Aatosh is in collaboration with Raanga, the fashion brand spearheaded by Chandreyee Ghosh and Aditi Roy. I am currently curating unisexual dhoti-pants and hue-pants for the line.
You have recently launched SPCKraft.
Launched on May 15th, SPCKraft is the very first interdisciplinary arts collective in Kolkata. It is my signature initiative and I am very excited about this venture and its endless possibilities.
Tell us about your recent Egypt trip.
I share a symbiotic relationship with Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and it was such a phenomenal experience to present Tagore’s timeless creations before the cognoscenti in Egypt. Eminent Rabindrasangeet exponent Prabuddha Raha, acclaimed pianist Dr Soumitra Sengupta and I had the good fortune to take our show ‘Music Mind’ to the Land of the Pharaohs. We were invited by the Indian Embassy of Egypt and supported by ICCR to take part in the Tagore Festival 2018. We performed in Cairo on May 6th and in Alexandria on May 7th.
Which artistic avenue are you planning to explore now?
Oh! There are so many, but I would like to don the mantle of a filmmaker someday soon.
Coming out of the closet
How did you come to terms with your alternative sexual orientation?
It was one of the toughest periods of my life. I have been in relationships with women – sexual and otherwise – and in the beginning it was difficult for me to understand and process the newfound realisation that I had started liking men. I am an only child, but I regard Ms Anuradha Sen who now lives in Toronto, Canada as my sister. She helped me to process it all at a gradual pace.
How did your mother, Sucheta Chatterjee react when you told her about your sexual orientation?
My mother is my biggest inspiration. But, I am yet to have THE conversation with her. Initially, I did not tell her because I did not want to shock her. I thought I would gradually lead her towards it. I couldn’t and now I am sure that she knows. She must have read about it in the media and or heard from various people. Recently, while having dinner my mother told me to ‘Go and get married to a man, but do settle down. I don’t want you to be alone after I am gone.” Do you think I still need to tell her?
Any relationships on the horizon?
What is your relationship status at the moment?
I am single. I had been in a serious relationship two years ago, but that did not end too well. It is never easy to find true love, but I am no longer interested in mindless sex. I am not in my 20s and 30s anymore; I am not going to indulge in anything that will make me challenge my own self-esteem – not any more.
Have you ever received any proposition from ‘straight men’?
Oh! Yes! They either approach me directly or call to inform me that they are now in the ‘experimental zone’ and would like to ‘do it with a man’. While I ‘embrace their thoughts’ and respect polyandry, I do not ‘accept’ such proposals. I refuse to be a guinea pig for someone else’s experiment.
Is it true that you have recently received a marriage proposal from a girl…?
(Smiles affably.) She wrote to me stating that she is in love with me and despite being aware of my alternative sexual orientation she wants to marry me because of the kind of person I am. I had to, of course, reject her offer.
What gives you the strength to carry on?
A large part of the Indian populace still has difficulty in accepting people with alternative sexual orientation…
But I am not looking for their acceptance. All I am asking is: Why is it so difficult to ‘embrace my thoughts’? Each one of us is entitled to make different choices. We might not be able to accept those, but why can’t we simply respect and embrace those choices?
Where do you get the strength to carry on?
First and foremost from my work and from every art form that I am associated with. My work acts like a balm and heals my scars. Another source is the man or the woman residing within me. It lashes out at me if I ever try to give up and says, ‘You will do it’ and then I simply do it. I also draw strength from my students, my friends and followers on social media and otherwise who enable me to learn about new perspectives – both in art and in life.
You are very vocal on social media. Is this your way of sensitising the society?
I use social media as my mouthpiece to further my form of activism, which is not the armchair variety. My ‘peace march’ happens through my art and social comments and if those motivate people in the process, then that is an added bonus.