March 5: When Mamata Banerjee casually mentioned Dipak Adhikari as the candidate from Ghatal, on Wednesday afternoon, no one reacted.
“Amader Dev,” she quickly added. And then the penny — make that bombshell — dropped.
Weeks after sending Bengal’s biggest export to Bollywood — Mithun Chakraborty — to the Rajya Sabha, Mamata has picked Tollywood’s biggest star for a seat in the Lok Sabha.
Khokababu to some, Paglu to others and Chander Pahar’s Shankar to the rest, Dev, now at the peak of his popularity, must put on the poll war paint for a whole new role.
“I have had enough of sitting back with people my age and bad-mouthing the state of politics in our country. How can politics become cleaner and better unless we participate? How many of us even bother to vote, let alone participate in other spheres of politics? I’ll grab this opportunity to do my best for the people of the state. But I’m an actor first, a social worker second, and then a politician. I see myself as a young man who can do something good for my state and my people,” said the man known for happy feet and flying fists on screen.
Like his toughest screen role till date — as Shankar in Kamaleswar Mukherjee’s action adventure Chander Pahar — Dev has always been spurred on by a “sense of adventure” that saw him take the plunge in Tollywood in 2005 after shifting base from Mumbai. And now comes the biggest Challenge for the hero: Destination Ghatal.
For the past two years, Dev has been the showstopper by Mamata’s side, from film festival to Brigade rally. Soon after assuming office, she attended a screening of Khokababu at SRFTI and in December 2013, she sat through a screening of Chander Pahar at Eco Park in New Town.
Dev, juggling masala movies and offbeat films, finds himself pitched into politics at a time when he is said to be peaking as a screen star.
Reactions from Tollywood were mixed. “It’s a very positive step. Dev is playing an active role towards the betterment of society. And it’s a positive sign for Tollywood. As an actor and entertainer, Dev has always been working for the people. It’s a different role now but the core remains the same. And I’m sure he’s going to balance politics and acting with great results,” said Shrikant Mohta of Shree Venkatesh Films, the largest production house in Bengal and the company behind Dev’s biggest blockbusters.
Others, on condition of anonymity, expressed fear that this was the beginning of the end for Dev the actor. “Dev’s appeal till now has been universal. Donning the political jersey of one colour is sure to erode his fan base. This could spell doom for Dev the actor and also hit some Tollywood films where it hurts,” said one industry insider.
The hurt is already showing in Dev’s ancestral house in Mahisda village of Keshpur, West Midnapore. For the actor’s family members here are die-hard CPM supporters in what was once a CPM bastion.
Sitting on a plastic chair, Dev’s uncle Shaktipada Adhikari, 72, a member of the zonal committee of the CPM in Keshpur, said Dev’s nomination in Trinamul colours had come as an embarrassment to them.
“What he (Dev) has done is very bad. This has tarnished the image of the family. However, we will continue to support the party that we have been supporting for years. We will also try not to spoil our relationship with a member of the family for political reasons. But I want to say that I still can’t believe it. It is like a bad dream,” said Shaktipada, a farmer.
He said that his younger brother Gurupada was in the dark about his son’s nomination. “As soon as Mamata Banerjee announced Dev’s name as a candidate from Ghatal, I called up his father Gurupada, who told me that he could not believe his ears.”
Shaktipada’s wife, Durga, 65, said Raju (Dev’s name in the family) was like her son, but that would not win him her vote. “He is like my son and I love him, but I will continue to vote for those whom we have been voting for all these years. His contesting for another party will not influence our political leanings,” she said.
Shaktipada’s grandson and Dev’s nephew, Kaushik, 20, was not so sure. “I never realised that I would face such a dilemma voting for the first time in my life. The party my uncle is contesting for and the political belief of our family are poles apart. I don’t know whether I would finally cast my vote this year,” said Kaushik, a second-year student of BSc.
For his uncle, a first-time political candidate, life changes overnight. Again. “I had left everything behind in Bombay and had come to Calcutta. It was an unknown place and I didn’t know anyone in this city. I used to stay at a Sealdah lodge. I would visit the studios in Tollygunge, show my pictures to two or three people and come back, stick around for a few days and return to Bombay. That was in 2005.... But my dreams were big,” Dev had earlier told The Telegraph.
Today, his life has taken a leap from the big screen to a big political stage. The first casualty of this would be his forthcoming film, Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Bunohaans (The Wild Goose), set to release on April 11 to catch the Poila Baisakh weekend.
“We have to find a new release date now. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise since the film can now travel the festival circuit and then release later this year. We are targeting the Cannes film festival. We’ll figure out a new release date in consultation with Dev,” said Shibasish Sarkar, CFO Reliance Entertainment.
For now, the former kabaddi captain of Purushottam High School in Mumbai who now lives high in the skies of South City Apartments, is left to grapple with a whole new challenge.