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Veteran Bengali actor-turned-politician Tapas Paul, who metamorphosed from the persona of a boy-next-door to a romantic hero and also helped the Trinamool Congress make a foray in the Kolkata's film industry, died after a cardiac arrest in a Mumbai hospital on Tuesday, family sources said.
He was 61.
Paul's death has led to a blame game, with the TMC holding the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre guilty of "mentally torturing" him and pursuing "political vendetta" against him, a charge rejected as "baseless" by the saffron party, which said the actor paid for the "sins" of his party who had used him as a scapegoat.
The two-time former Lok Sabha MP from West Bengal's Krishnanagar had a long history of heart and neurological problems, and had been in and out of hospitals during the past two years, according to the sources.
Paul had gone to Mumbai in January to meet his daughter.
He was rushed to the hospital on February 1 after he fell ill at the Mumbai airport on his way to the United States for treatment.
He was on ventilator till February 6, his wife Nandini Paul, a TV personality, said.
"He was taken off the ventilator and was recovering. But suddenly, his condition worsened and he died of cardiac arrest around 3.30 am on Tuesday," Nandini Paul said.
Paul is survived by his wife and daughter Sohini.
The actor-politician was born at Chandernagore in Hooghly district, an erstwhile French colony about 35 km from Kolkata.
He graduated with bioscience from the Hooghly Mohsin College.
Paul shot to fame in 1980 with his debut film, Tarun Majundar's "Dadar Kirti", and left his mark on Bengali cinema with movies like "Saheb", for which he was awarded the Filmfare Award in 1981, and "Guru Dakshina".
He became a household name with his leading roles in "Parabat Priya" (1984), "Bhalobasa Bhalobasa" (1985), "Anurager Chowa" and "Amar Bandhan" (1986).
The actor had marked his debut in Bollywood opposite Madhuri Dixit in 'Abodh'.
The 1984 film was also Dixit's first acting assignment for the big screen.
"The loss of Tapas Paul who was one of the very first actors, I have worked with is felt by many. May God bless and comfort his family during this difficult period," Dixit tweeted.
In a career spanning over three decades, Paul had worked with veteran Bengali actors Prosenjit Chatterjee, Soumitra Chatterjee, Ranjit Mallick and Raakhee Gulzar.
His last appearances were in films like "Khiladi" and "8:08 Er Bongaon Local".
Paul was inspired by TMC supremo and chief minister Mamata Banerjee for her fight against the Left Front and had joined the party in 2000, two years after it was formed.
He was elected MLA from the Alipore assembly seat in 2001 and was the Lok Sabha MP of Krishnanagar for two consecutive terms from 2009.
In 2014, Paul had courted a controversy after he threatened to kill the opposition Communist Party of India-Marxist workers and said he would send his boys to rape their women, if they mess with the TMC workers.
His comments drew widespread condemnation, forcing him to later issue a written apology.
But Paul had drifted away from both cinema and active politics after he was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation and jailed in connection with the Rose Valley chit-fund scam case in December 2016.
After his arrest, Paul's family members had time and again alleged that the TMC did not bother to enquire about him.
He was granted bail after 13 months.
On his release from prison in 2018, Paul withdrew from active politics and communicated to the TMC his unwillingness to contest elections.
Banerjee in her condolence message said Paul's death had left a deep void in films and politics.
"Saddened and shocked to hear about the demise of Tapas Paul. He was a superstar of Bengali cinema who was a member of the Trinamool family. Tapas served the people as a two-term MP and MLA. We will miss him dearly. My condolences to his wife Nandini, daughter Sohini and his many fans," the TMC supremo tweeted.
Kolkata mayor and state minister Firhad Hakim said "Tapas Paul was not only a good actor but also a good human being. He was victimized by the central government. It is due to the vendetta politics pursued by BJP, that he became ill and passed away at such a early age".
West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh, who also condoled Paul's demise, said "It is for people to decide why we lost such a good actor. Was it due to the kind of association he used to keep, who used him and he had to pay for their sins?"
Actor Ranjit Mallick described Paul's death as "untimely".
"I am yet to come to terms with the news. He was like my younger brother. He was not keeping well for some time," he said.
Paul's colleagues in films and politics, actors Debasree Roy and Chiranjeet Chakraborty, both TMC MLAs, said they had lost a dear friend and the film industry a brilliant actor.