“Many thought I will never come back,” Thilakan said sardonically on stage at one of the recent award functions when he received a special mention for his cameo role in the 2011 hit movie Indian Rupee. This was not too long back before he was admitted in a hospital where he suffered two strokes and a bout of pneumonia that would eventually mark an end to his legendary career and a life that suffered a rough patch in recent years.
The rough patch that saw him openly warring with the Malayalam Film Association AMMA and other associations like FEFKA and MACTA had him suspended from the organizations and alienated him from the industry for his open criticism about the activities of the associations. Thilakan would be dropped from big ticket projects like Christian Brothers and Dam 999 that turned into a messy affair that cost him a year of his career.
Thilakan, however, came back with a notable performance in Indian Rupee when the ban was lifted. But it wasn’t easy for director Ranjith to cast Thilakan in Indian Rupee. He faced opposition from AMMA and other powerful sources in the industry. Ranjith notably replied that he is willing to replace Thilakan only if the industry can find him a replacement for the role earmarked for the actor. The opposition ended there. Nobody even offered any help because Thilakan was simply irreplaceable.
Born as Surendranatha Thilakan in the Pathanamthitta District of Kerala, Thilakan’s career was rooted in theatre. He has been indisputably one of the accomplished actors in theatres from the 1950s through the seventies. As a natural progression, he took to films in the early seventies and showcased memorable performances in films after films. He became one of the respectable names in the industry – a patriarch of sorts for the Malayalam industry – and has been constantly recognized by the state and central governments and other organizations for his contribution to the industry, the latest being the Padma Shri awarded to him in the year 2009.
Thilakan’s performances in the films like Perunthachan – in which he plays the exceptionally skilled master carpenter, the menacing villain of Namukku Parkkan Munthirithoppukal, the loving grandfather of Moonam Pakkam, the anguished father of Kireedom in front of whose eyes his son’s life deteriorates and the hardnosed middle aged man of Kilukkam have made him a household name in Kerala. In Tamil, his performances in Kshatriyan and Mettukudi are noteworthy.
Perhaps the proof as to how beloved he was to the people of Kerala was witnessed at the Victoria Jubilee Town Hall, Trivandrum where his body was kept for public viewing. His fans turned up in thousands to pay their last respects for Thilakan. The stalwart’s body was visited by people from all walks of life and the crowd never dissipated until he was cremated later.
In a career spanning 200 odd films, embellished with 2 national awards, 9 state awards and numerous other awards, Thilakan proved what it is to be a great actor who rises beyond the character’s caliber to provide sincere performances in movies after movies. At the time of his death, he has been acting in 4 different movies. He dropped unconscious at one of the sets of the movie Scene 1 Nammude Veedu.
Thilakan’s successes in films did not follow his personal life. Even as his outspokenness caused him troubles in the industry, Thilakan’s irrefutable talent kept his career afloat. As his relationships with the previous communist government in Kerala became worse, Thilakan announced that he did not want state respects when he died. Even though he was a communist from the age of 19 he was shameful to proclaim so now, for the government had already shot him in his chest, Thilakan reasoned. However, the present government ensured that he is given final respects before cremation. Heartening also is the fact that many of his contemporaries, with whom he was involved in a public war of words during his difficult times, also attended the funeral. Notable of them included Ganesh and Captain Raju.Respond to
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