KOLKATA: Most of the on-screen roles that led to the popularity of actor Tapas Paul were those of a village simpleton, sacrificing brother, boyfriend, student, upright activist and a father bent on enforcing discipline among his daughters — images that ironically seem to be at odds with the real life persona of the politician who was arrested on December 30 for his connection with the Rose Valley scam.
His debut movie, arguably one of the blockbuster debuts by a Bengali actor, was that of a ‘simpleton’ Kedar in Dadar Kirti, almost a reflection of the ‘essential good man’ that writers such as Dostoyevsky created in The Idiot. That was in 1980. In the next few decades, Paul, who sported a quintessential Bengali look to win many hearts in the state, kept working at characters that portrayed love, sacrifice and principles.
In real life though, Paul is not new to controversy. In July 2014, while speaking in a public meeting after the Lok Sabha polls, Paul had threatened to let loose his boys on women supporters of CPI(M) and threatened to have them raped. “If anyone from the opposition or their wives and sisters are here, then listen, if any one of your people touches anyone from Trinamool Congress I will destroy you, I will not spare you. I will send my boys and they will rape people,” he was heard saying in the meeting in a village in Nadia district. The good man on screen didn’t hesitate to scream expletives in a string of four meetings that day. He described himself as “Chandannagar-er maal” (the tough guy from Chandannagar, West Bengal where he was born), and also threatened to shoot opponents with his pistol.
Those who have known Paul for a number of years and have worked with him are baffled. “Paul is one of the finest actors of Bengali cinema. I remember him as a down-to-earth person, who always spoke gently. But now we see a contrasting image. It is likely that the rough and tumble of politics has changed him,” said actor Rachana Banerjee, who has worked with him in several films including Janmadata (2008), Pratishodh (2004), Tyag (2004), Guru (2003), Kartabya (2003) and Mayer Anchal (2003).
Filmmaker Prabhat Roy, who has worked with Tapas Paul in films such as Pratik (1988), Duranta Prem (1993) and Joddha (1997), is also baffled. “ When he worked with me, he was punctual, humble and well-behaved. He was also a foodie and would always ask about the lunch menu. But now I can’t make out what’s happening. I am thoroughly confused as to why he is conducting himself in this way,” said Roy.
Unlike his contemporary Prosenjit Chatterjee, who was also known as an action hero, Paul’s films relied heavily on emotions. Most have been tear-jerkers. ‘Saheb’ established him as a sacrificing brother. A football fanatic, Paul sells hjs kidney to get his sister married in this 1981 Bijoy Bose film.In Anjan Choudhury’s 1987 blockbuster film Guru Dakshina , he played an aspiring singer, Jayanta, who sacrifices his career at the request of his teacher. A song from that film, “E Amar Guru Dakshina,” song sung by Kishore Kumar, is still popular.
In real life though, there have been allegations that he is not really the guy who will support his family through thick and thin. Paul was in news some years earlier for allegedly throwing his mother out of their ancestral house in Chandannagar in 2005. Actor Jisshu Sengupta has worked with Paul in two films Rin Mukti (2000) and Sudhu Bhalobasha (2005) and has known him well since, is finding it difficult to explain this.
“Tapasda is a nice human being. When I used to regularly do out-and-out commercial cinema, I worked with him. He knew my father (actor Ujjwal Sengupta) too. I have always seen him being nice to everyone. I never saw him lose temper on the a film set,” he remarked.
Journalist-turned-film-director Aniket Chattopadhyay who has interviewed Paul several times down the years, however, isn’t surprised. There are often vast differences between reel and real life, he points out.
“The contrasting images don’t come as a surprise to me. This is nothing new. Keshto Mukherjee is known for playing drunkard all him life. However, he never touched alcohol in real life,” Chattopadhyay said.
“We tend to typecast actors. Since Tapas made his debut in a film like Dadar Kirti where he played a simpleton, he kept receiving similar roles. There was a certain innocence in his face that went well with his on-screen characters. The audience lapped it up when he played a sacrificing brother in Saheb. But let’s not confuse the reel life image with real life,” he argued.
In 2012, Paul portrayed the role of an activist Ananta Das in the film 8:08 Er Bongaon Local, which was based on the infamous Rajiv murder case in Barasat. The film was well received. But the latest allegation against him, of being a beneficiary of the Rose Valley funds -- the biggest chit fund to go bust in Bengal sinking about Rs 15,000 crore -- has again raised doubts about who is the real Tapas Paul.