In 1980, after Bengali film superstar Uttam Kumar died, Dadar Kirti of Tarun Majumdar was released after Durga Puja. The voice of Hemanta Mukhopadhyay (Hemant Kumar in Hindi film playback) resonated through the lips of Tapas Pal. While a commercial film can be no match to the genius of Rabindranath Tagore, Rabindrasangeet has rarely been a chartbuster. Dadar Kirti turned “chôrono dhorite diyo go āmāre (let me be at your feet)” into one. And people wanted to know who this naïve chocolate boy playing the lead was.
Tapas Pal from Chandannagar was all set to rule the world of Bengali cinema for the next decade. He paired up with Munmun Sen, Debashree Roy, Mahuya Roychoudhury. Tapan Sinha’s Baidurya Rahasya with Moonmoon Sen in 1985, Bijoy Bose’s Samapti with Debashree Roy in 1983, Arbinda Mukherjee’s Ajante with Moonmoon Sen in 1984, Narayan Chakraborty’s Nishantey with Debashree Roy in 1985, etc may come across as a steady inflow of films that came his way, but we’re talking of a cash-strapped film industry here. The proliferation seen in Hindi cinema cannot be expected from its poor cousin shelled out from Tollygunge, an otherwise forgettable neighbourhood of south Kolkata.
What was important about Tapas Pal was the refrain of a gullible, often innocent, character through the films. Bengalis had, by and large, switched to action-packed Bollywood by then and Tapas Pal was berated as a vestige of an era of sentimentality that wouldn’t return. Those who still wanted emotional family dramas would rather wait for the next weekend to catch up with an Uttam Kumar movie on Doordarshan. Prosenjit, meanwhile, was trying action but coming across as unconvincing, thanks to the substandard technical support the Tollywood industry had on offer.
And filmmakers had to do with what they had. For the limited audience they were left with. A few theatres in Kolkata and many in suburbs and villages were still dedicated to Bengali plots where every story had a happy family or routine individuals falling prey to bad times and then reconciling in the end. Within this framework, Tapas Pal made a mark in Bhalobasa Bhalobasa, Parabat Priya (with a song of Tagore once again playing a crowd-puller), Anurager Chhnoyan, etc.
Meanwhile, whatever stardom Tapas had was fading away, giving way to controversies, that one thing which makes bygone stars still grab news headlines. One story spoke of how he had deprived his siblings of their ancestral property. Another said he had mistreated his mother.
However, the moderate stardom that he enjoyed ensured that not many among Bengal’s voracious news consumers had bumped into these reports. What did the ultimate damage was his foray into Trinamool politics. People could not have taken his comment “I’ll push men into your homes and get your women raped” lying down.
Nobody shed a tear when it was reported that Tapas Pal was incriminated and then convicted in the infamous case of chit fund scam of Bengal. He died a nearly forgotten man early today, never mind the messages of condolence pouring in from Tollygunge since the news arrived.
When Tapas had joined the TMC, Mamata Banerjee’s breakaway faction from undivided INC was far from ascending to the Bengal throne. In his words, “When I came to do the party, no one knew that the Trinamool would ever come to power. I did not come to politics to be with the ruler; I came to the TMC to challenge one.”
Mamata, the TMC and, along with them, Tapas Pal did taste power. But for Tapas, it was shortlived. A much discredited Communist Party of India (Marxist) had already turned into everybody’s object of sympathy when a woman MLA of the TMC had threatened a communist woman of rape. Tapas aggravated the situation with his crass “āmi Kolkata-r māl noi, āmi Chandannagar-er māl; ghôre chhele Dhukiye rape koriye debo (do not expect Kolkata-like decent behaviour from me; I am a product of Chandannagar; I’ll push men into your house and get you raped)”. He had said this at a much-televised public meeting.
My college days coincided with the rise of Tapas Pal in Bengali cinema. My entire batch couldn’t care less about him except for the film where he had debuted: Dadar Kirti. Kedar (pet name Phul da) was the epitome of innocence any actor has ever portrayed on celluloid. Raj Kapoor in Mera Naam Joker was a loser. In Eeshwar, Anil Kapoor could not differentiate between a simpleton and a mentally challenged man. In My Name is Khan, Shah Rukh Khan could have taken lessons from Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man where the savant syndrome could have brought him closer to Asperger’s. Kedar by Tapas remains unchallenged.
Kodi Diye Kinlam, based on Bimal Mitra’s voluminous novel, came much later. Utpal Dutt and Aparna Sen rightly claimed all the credit. In the interregnum, my friends and I would see posters of Bengali films only on the façade of some dilapidated theatres of Calcutta that we never peeped in.
On 24 April 1992, a day after Ray died, Tapas Pal went to his residence to offer his condolences but was not let in. We read the report and burst into laughter, from where oozed sheer derision for the actor.
The star of the most forgettable phase of Bengali cinema is gone. The players of the tinsel town, infamous for their vacuity, are coming up with customary laments. From Debashree who must have known him quite well to a faraway Madhuri Dixit, with whom Tapas played Abodh in Hindi, they have all read their respective funeral pieces with Christian-like precision. Other than widow Nandini and orphaned Sohini, does anyone really care?
I am told Nakashipara in the Choumuha village of District Nadia, where he had delivered the infamous “rape” speech in 2014, is mourning too. Really? Are the victims of the Rose Valley scam, for which Tapas had to stay in jail for 13 months before he was bailed, crying as well? He had accepted his association with Rose Valley founder Gautam Kundu after two rounds of intense grilling by the CBI and, in a rare case where the investigating agency succeeds in pinning down a celebrity, Tapas Pal was convicted in a court of law. The tradition of desisting from speaking ill of the dead is questionable.