There’s all manner of product we export out of India – meats, spices, and of course, the occasional Bengali stripper joint owner who’s convicted of murder. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning of this terrible tale.
Some of you might have heard of Chippendales, a male striptease dance troupe based in the US. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s an example – Magic Mike.
Chippendales was one of the first nightclubs in North America to use male striptease dancers to entertain an all-female audience. It was founded in 1979.
Inexplicably enough, an unassuming Bengali man named Somen ‘Steve’ Banerjee was at the head of it all, establishing the male striptease company and becoming a multi-millionaire, before getting embroiled in a sordid saga of murder-for-hire that ended in his arrest and eventual death.
Somen was born in Mumbai in 1946, and arrived in the US sometime in the late 60’s. He proceeded to purchase a failing Los Angeles club and converted it into a nightclub that initially featured only female exotic dancers.
The Chippendales founder is a Bengali immigrant named Somen Banerjee who started going by Steve after arriving in the US in the late 60s. He leased the club in 1975 and named it Destiny II. (There was never a Destiny I.) Here’s Banerjee and his extremely 70s lapels. pic.twitter.com/PqWcBtchEA— eleanor kagan (@eleanorkagan) February 14, 2021
In 1979, he renamed that club ‘Chippendales’, and held a ‘Male Exotic Dance Night for Ladies Only’ – the first of its kind in the USA. The concept went on to become wildly popular, spawning countless imitations and turning Somen into a rich businessman who stayed out of the limelight.
He loved fast cars, huge mansions, and living the high life, as most millionaires are wont to do. On the flip side, Somen was also ruthless when it came to business – he was a suspect in 2 cases of arson after trying to have two competing nightclubs burned down.
One of the main reasons for the success of Chippendales was Emmy Award winning director Nick DeNoia, who was the choreographer. However, Somen and Nick developed bad blood following an acrimonious financial dispute, and Somen had Nick killed by a hitman in 1987.
That year, Nick sued Somen for violating their touring agreement. In turn, Somen hired Ray Colon, an ex-police officer-turned hitman, to kill Nick. In April 1987, Ray shot and killed Nick DeNoia in New York. Somen was a suspect, but was released for lack of evidence connecting him to the killing.
In 1990, Somen enlisted Ray’s services again. He tasked him with the killing of former Chippendales choreographer Mike Fullington and 2 other dancers, all 3 of whom had left to start their own troupe and were therefore competition to the business.
Ray Colon, in turn, hired another hitman to do the job. Unbeknownst to him, that hitman was an FBI informant, and thus began the downfall of Somen ‘Steve’ Banerjee.
In 1993, after a manhunt that covered Switzerland to the USA, Somen was charged with attempted arson, racketeering, and most importantly, the murder of Nick DeNoia and Indian businessman Jagjit Sehdeva. He was basically looking at life in prison.
On October 23, 1994, a day before he was about to be sentenced, Somen Banerjee hanged himself in his prison cell.
You might have chanced upon this unique performance art in movies like Magic Mike, Burlesque, and Cocktail, but you probably didn’t know that the entire movement was birthed from the mind of a bespectacled Bengali with a penchant for fire and murder. Well, that’s the story of Somen Banerjee.