There is a very interesting niche in American series that aim to recap important, but not necessarily historical, facts from the country’s recent past. Within this wave, it is possible to fit the great seasons of American Crime Story, from showrunner Ryan Murphy (who recounted the OJ Simpson trial, the murder of Gianni Versace and the political scandal involving Monica Lewinsky and then-president Bill Clinton).
But it’s not just these incensed series that feed this niche. There is a rise of audiovisual narratives that are not so famous, but that seek to retell, with great competence, cases that impacted culture. And this is where I fit Welcome to the Seduction Club – name that poorly translates the original title Welcome to Chippendales, Starplus series. He recounts the construction of a rather unusual company: Chippendales, a chain of striptease founded in 1979 by an Indian immigrant named Steve Banerjee.
But expect less focus on the “seduction” of the title and more on a very interesting exploration of racism, greed, and how money can work as a kind of “demon” that enslaves the most ambitious. And if this little plot seems hard to believe for you, know that this is a series true crimethat is, based on a criminal case that actually happened.
Power, greed and naked men
Welcome to the Seduction Club begins in the 1970s, when a guy named Somen Banerjee (played by Kumail Nanjiani, from the Silicon Valley series) appears working as an employee of a grocery store at a gas station. There, he is subjected to all kinds of humiliation by customers, motivated by xenophobia due to his Indian origin. This information, already posted in the first scenes, is important, as it connects with the entire subsequent unfolding of the series.
It turns out that Somen clearly has a knack for business. His boss at the station wants to promote him to manager, but he refuses, as he has higher plans. As someone who migrated to America against his parents’ wishes, it is very important to be able to build your own business so that you can successfully return to Mumbai.
It so happens that his successful models are centered on the opulence and pleasure life represented by the world of Playboy, in the figure of its owner, Hugh Hefner, who Somen idolizes. In other words, Banerjee doesn’t just want to get rich. He wants to be recognized as rich and wants to enjoy a new social level that is not allowed to immigrants in America – above all, those who are seen under the racial stigma of their skin colors.
That said, it is clear that Welcome to the Seduction Club carries a strong discourse about the social injustices that surround the population of a country that prides itself on giving the same chance to everyone. To fulfill his dream, Somen changes his name (he uses Steve, more American) and will do some pretty horrible things. But, to reach his goal, he initially decides to open a backgammon club, which does not work out.
After several unsuccessful attempts to change his business, he finally has a insight. An individual who approaches your club and introduces himself as promoter clubbing takes him and his wife (a Playboy bunny named Dorothy Stratten, who was murdered by the same husband in 1980) to a gay bar, where they see a striptease masculine where women seem to be going crazy.
Steve Banerjee arrives, then, at an unusual success formula: he decides to open a “women’s club” (I refer here to the term with which this type of nightclub became famous here in Brazil) dedicated to the middle and upper class women on the East Coast, where they could rejoice in seeing men undress and groping their bodies. Thus, Chippendales was born.
Success and tragedy in the Chippendales
(Source: StarPlus)Source: StarPlus
The context, therefore, is that of a historical moment in which there are gradual movements for sexual liberation and women’s empowerment. But little by little it becomes clear that Steve Banerjee, even if he himself is the target of all kinds of prejudice, is interested in focusing on something chic, for “differentiated” people.
Chippendales gradually grows and becomes very successful, which attracts new people into Steve’s world. One of them is Irene (played by the competent Annaleigh Ashford, who has an important role in American Crime Story – Impeachment), an accountant who ends up becoming his wife. And the other is choreographer Nick De Noia (Murray Barlett, who rose to fame playing the iconic resort in The White Lotus).
De Noia (who boasts not one, but two Emmy awards) in particular approaches the Chippendales with a promise to improve the product Banerjee is selling: He considers the striptease very amateurish and vulgar. His talent in dance and performance becomes the key for the club to become more respected by the elites. Alongside him, a woman named Denise (Juliette Lewis) also appears in the plot, who is a seamstress who brings a more specialized look to the dancers’ clothes.
By bringing together this team – which, at one point, called itself “the four geniuses” – the Chippendales seem to have found an infallible formula for success and for generating a fortune never dreamed of by any of them. But the dream is reached very quickly and, because of that, the fall is inevitable.
I won’t go into detail so as not to give away spoilers for those who don’t know the story. But I only emphasize that everything that happens seems to have to do with the personality of Steve Banerjee, a complex guy, who transits between a gigantic (but justifiable) feeling of inferiority and a blind desire for power.
The series cleverly exploits these traits at certain points – like, for example, when Steve orders a suit and insists the tailor shorten the sleeves, no matter how much the man insists it will look dowdy (his goal is for his Rolex to look always on display).
However, I felt that the flaws of Welcome to the Seduction Club are precisely in the lack of subtlety in general. In the first episode, in particular, there is a poorly engendered effort at didacticism in several scenes in which Banerjee describes to other characters, in an unnatural way, every detail of the way he thinks about business or about where he wants to go. These first scenes have nothing to do with the dark businessman shown in the rest of the series.
For those who won’t watch it waiting for the series of the year, the story of Chippendales can be good fun. And, finally, pay attention to the ability that Australian Murray Bartley has to steal the spotlight in the series in which he participates. It was like this in The White Lotus and he does it again in Welcome to the Seduction Club. He really is a star.
Streaming from Disney has arrived with exclusive and special content for fans of The Walking Dead, The Simpsons, Lost, Modern Family, Prison Break and more!