Somen “Steve” Banerjee was “an Indian immigrant who became the unlikely founder of the world’s greatest male-stripping empire — and let nothing stand in his way in the process,” Hulu says. But if you’ve seen the trailer for Welcome to Chippendales, Hulu’s upcoming true crime saga, you know that Banerjee’s story is less the American dream and more of a murderous nightmare.
The eight-episode series, debuting on November 22, dramatizes the Chippendales’ real-life origin story, with Kumail Nanjiani playing the dance troupe’s infamous founder.
As the Los Angeles Times reported in 1994, Banerjee was a native of Mumbai, India, who bought a failing bar in Los Angeles’ Westside neighborhood, changed that establishment’s name from Destiny II to Chippendales, and launched a ladies-only “male exotic dance night.”
The idea for a show starring scantily-clad studs came from Paul Snider, a promoter that Banerjee’s former lawyer called “sleazy and oily,” according to The Daily Beast. Snider’s story also ended in violence: He killed Playboy Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten, his girlfriend at the time, in a 1980 murder-suicide.
That Chippendales revue launched to overnight success in 1979, and in the early 1980s, Banerjee hired Emmy-award-winning television producer and choreographer Nick DeNoia to make the show bigger and better, as ABC News reported last year.
But Banerjee and DeNoia’s working relationship soon broke down, and the two men took on different parts of the business, with DeNoia taking the Chippendales on the road in exchange for 50 percent of the tour profits. Eventually, Banerjee suspected that DeNoia wasn’t being honest about the money the tour was earning, and he hired a man named Ray Colon to attack the choreographer, FBI special agent Scott Garriola told ABC News. Colon teamed up with an accomplice named Gilberto Rivera Lopez, and together, the duo traveled to New York, where Rivera Lopez fatally shot DeNoia in his Chippendales office on April 7, 1987.
For years, DeNoia’s murder went unsolved. But then Banerjee — who had bought the Chippendales touring rights from the DeNoia family — went after the competition.
Read Scot, a former Chippendales performer, told ABC News that FBI agents approached him in 1991 when he was emceeing the Adonis male exotic dance troupe’s shows in Blackpool, England. The agents explained that there was a hit on his life and the lives of two other Adonis performers. Someone wanted them killed by cyanide injection.
“I couldn’t believe it was real. I just couldn’t believe that somebody would do that to me. But once it sunk in, [I thought] this is serious. Somebody is trying to kill me,” Scot said. “And I said, ‘Banerjee. It’s got to be Banerjee.’”
An informant had told the FBI that Colon had hired him to take out the Adonis employees, and a search of Colon’s house revealed 46 grams of cyanide. Colon was arrested but eventually agreed to assist the FBI in its investigation of Banerjee. And in a wiretapped conversation, Banerjee “confess[ed] to his complicity in hiring Ray Colon for the murder of DeNoia,” Garriola said.
On September 2, 1993, Banerjee was arrested, with the Los Angeles Times later reporting that his targets were three former business associates who had switched to a rival male dance revue. The following month, a federal grand jury also charged Banerjee with the orchestration of De Noia’s murder, as well as racketeering and arson.
On July 29, 1994, Banerjee pleaded guilty to murder-for-hire, racketeering, and the attempted burning of the Red Onion Restaurant and Bar in Marina del Rey, CA. (Banerjee made three arson attempts, according to a sentencing memorandum, and two of those attempts led to damage at competing bars.)
Charlie Parsons, then the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, said the theme of the indictment was “that anybody or anything that got in Banerjee’s way, he would hire somebody to kill or burn the competitor.”
Banerjee was due to be sentenced to 26 years in prison, but hours before his sentencing, he died by suicide in his cell at Los Angeles’ Metropolitan Detention Center. An executive to the warden at the detention center said that Banerjee was suffering from depression but didn’t show signs of being suicidal. But when Banerjee was arrested, a federal prosecutor told a federal magistrate judge that Banerjee had told an informant that he would “leave the country or kill himself” if he were to be arrested.
“[Banerjee] didn’t get the punishment he deserved. He didn’t serve the time for Nick DeNoia, for destroying lives, for trying to kill people,” Scot told ABC News. “He got out easy. He was a coward.”
Rivera Lopez, on the other hand, was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison after being convicted of second-degree murder. And Colon, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and murder for hire, got his sentence reduced for his cooperation and was released in 1996.
Now, this sordid tale is the basis for Hulu’s newest true-crime binge-watch, with Murray Bartlett (The White Lotus) co-starring as DeNoia, Dan Stevens (Legion) playing Snider, Nicola Peltz (Bates Motel) playing Stratten, and Robin de Jesús (The Boys in the Band) playing Colon.
“[The story] hit a lot of my pleasure buttons. It felt like Scarface or Goodfellas or Boogie Nights,” creator Robert Siegel (Pam & Tommy) told Vanity Fair in August. “It’s bad people doing bad things. But what differentiates it from another wannabe Martin Scorsese movie is that you take out Tony Montana and put in this nerdy, socially awkward Indian immigrant. … This was a chance to say a lot of things about the American dream, about capitalism, about assimilation, and what it means to be an American.”
Welcome to Chippendales, Streaming Premiere, Tuesday, November 22, Hulu
Leave a Reply