In the controversial video where he threatens murder and rape, Tapas Paul would appear to fall into the mould of the stock-in-trade corrupt politician of Bengali potboilers. Film watchers note, however, that this is far-removed from his benign onscreen image, one of a bumbling Bengali bhadralok.
The actor acquired that image 34 years ago with his breakthrough role in Tarun Mazumdar’s Dadar Kirti, where he played a character with a blend of integrity and naiveté. It was an image that endeared him to the audience, and stuck because of his subsequent films. In Tobu Mone Rekho (1994), for instance, he played a meek young man who is exploited by his stepmother and can’t gather the courage to defy her until his wife stands up in defence.
“Tapas Paul was the quintessential bhalo chele of Bengali cinema,” says film historian Sanjay Mukhopadhyay, of Jadavpur University’s film studies department. “In films such as Bhalobasa Bhalobasa (1985) and Kori Diye Kinlam (1989), he consolidated that image. Tapas Paul was the guy next door that Bengali men can easily identify with.”
On June 14 came the display of an unfamiliar side to his character, now as a real-life politician. Aparna Sen finds it difficult to connect this raving politician with the “sweet boy” she worked with. “I remember him as a very gentle person. Do people change like this after joining politics?” she says.
“I find this sudden violent turn very disturbing,” says Sambuddha Chaudhuri of University of Pennsylvania, who follows Bengali cinema closely. “Dadar Kirti won’t ever be the same for me.”