From PJ Antony to Surabhi Lakshmi, here is a list of talented actors who made their way to movies from theatre.

25 times theatre gifted Malayalam cinema with awesome talent
Flix Mollywood Tuesday, October 29, 2019 - 14:43

Where did they come from? Those life-like characters, those people who made our favourite films whole merely by their presence. Give them one dialogue, one scene, one act - they make sure it holds meaning in the viewer’s mind. Where did they come from? Theatre, of course! Not in any particular order. 

1. PJ Antony: The first Malayalam actor to win the National award (Nirmalyam, 1974) Antony was a force to reckon with in professional theatre. He primarily worked with KPAC, known for their communist leanings in drama and established his own theatre in Kochi called Pratibha Theatres. Antony has appeared in over 60 films, besides dabbling in direction, scripting, short stories, novels, poems and lyrics.

2. Sathyan: After serving in the Indian army during World War II and later working as a police officer, his tryst with acting began on stage as a performer in several amateur plays. He has acted in over 140 films and has several awards instituted in his name, including Sathyan National Film Award and Sathyan Memorial Award.

3. Thilakan: The three-time National Award winning actor along with his friends started Mundakayam Nataka Samithi, a drama troupe, worked briefly with Kerala People's Arts Club, Kalidasa Kala Kendra, Changanacherry Geetha, and PJ Antony's troupe (mostly theatre groups that actively promoted communism). Thilakan had the most fruitful association with Antony and he also acted in Periyar, Antony’s first directorial feature film. He was also part of several radio plays of All India Radio. More than 300 films and innumerable awards later, Thilakan is regarded as one of the finest actors the country has ever produced.

4. Premji:  He debuted on stage with VT Bhattathiripad’s eminent play, Adukkalayil Ninnu Arangathekku, and has been part of several hard-hitting socio-political plays. He has won several accolades including a fellowship by the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy. It’s only a decade later that he debuted in feature films and went on to act in 60 films.

5. N.N Pillai: Before Godfather’s Anjooran took the nation by storm, NN Pillai was already a name to reckon with in the theatre scene. He formed Viswa Kerala Kala Samithi (1952) and staged and acted in his own plays till the summer of 2005. Pillai also wrote two studies on state plays, Nadaka Darpanam and Curtain. His autobiography is called Njan.

6. Bharath Gopi: One of the first actors to be associated with New Wave cinema in Kerala of the 70s, Gopi debuted as an actor on stage at Prasadhana Little Theatres under G Sankara Pillai and was also part Kavalam Narayana Panicker’s troupe. Gopi has also written and directed plays before making his big screen debut in Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Swayamvaram (1975). He has acted in over a hundred films, besides directing four films and authoring two award-winning books.

7. Murali: He was part of Natyagriham, a drama troupe founded by actor Narendra Prasad, besides being a permanent fixture at G Sankara Pillai Theatre. One of his best acts on stage was in Lanka Lakshmi where he played Ravana. Murali made his feature film debut in 1979 and has done over 160 films. He has been a recipient of several awards, including the National award.

8. KPAC Lalitha: One of the few actors who borrowed her stage name on screen, KPAC Lalitha appeared on stage at the age of 10. She was one of the prominent names of KPAC (Kerala People’s Art Club), a communist flavoured drama troupe, and worked there for more than a decade before making her feature film debut in 1969. With 550 feature films, infinite awards (including 2 National Awards) and hailed as one of the best in the business, Lalitha is currently heading the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy.

9. Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair: He began on stage at the age of 10. He owned drama troupes Jayasree and Kalamandiram before venturing into cinema. Nair has done over 150 films.

10. Thikkurisi Sukumaran Nair: He started as a playwright and went on to write plays (Sthree, Maya) that revolutionised the professional theatre scenario in Kerala. He introduced dialogue-centred plays flavoured with realism and themes of social importance. Thikkurisi entered cinema in 1950 and has acted in over 300 films.

11. Philomina: One of the finest in Malayalam cinema who redefined realistic acting, Philomina was a stage actor before stepping into films. It was her stint with PJ Antony’s drama troupe that really honed her skills as an actor. She made her debut in 1964 in a Prem Nazir film (Kuttikuppayam) and has done over 750 films. Her comic roles continue to remain unsurpassed.

12. Oduvil Unnikrishnan:  Regarded as one of the most lovable actors in Malayalam cinema, Oduvil began his career as a tablist in Kerala Kalavedi and KPAC. He also sang, wrote lyrics and performed stand-in roles in several plays before making his feature film debut in 1973. The veteran was part of over 400 films and some of his best roles were in Sathyan Anthikad films where he used his comic timing and valluvanadan slang effectively.

13. Nedumudi Venu: Venu also started with theatre and was a constant fixture in Kavalam Narayana Panicker’s dramas before making his feature film debut in Aravindan’s Thambu.

14. Sankaradi: The marine engineer-turned-journalist who ventured into theatre in the mid-60s, Sankaradi too eventually forayed into films.

15. Kuthiravattam Pappu: Pappu who began his career as a drama artist, acted in over thousand instant plays and two professional dramas besides working with prominent playwrights like Kunjandi, Nellikode Bhaskaran, Thikkodiyan and KT Muhammed. One such play eventually landed him his first noted role in Bhargavi Nilayam.

16.  Narendra Prasad: He was a consummate theatre artiste before entering films. Natyagriham was founded by Prasad, who composed, directed and produced plays for the troupe. Quite a few actors who later shone in cinema worked with him (Murali, Gopakumar). He was awarded the Sangeetha Nataka Academy and Kerala Sahitya Academy Awards for his contribution to drama. He debuted in films in 1990 (150 films) and has also worked as a dubbing artiste.

17. Jagathy Sreekumar: Being the son of Malayalam dramatist and writer Jagathy NK Achary, drama was an obvious choice for Jagathy and he made his debut in school plays. With over 1,000 Malayalam films to his credit, it is widely known that there are very few roles that Jagathy Sreekumar cannot do. He was running his father’s company Kalanilayam for a long time.

18. Vijayaraghavan: Son of theatre veteran NN Pillai, it was natural that Vijayaraghavan debuted on stage as a child (all of 6 years). He was a busy stage artist till films beckoned. He has been part of over 300 films. He made his debut with Kaapalika, which was based on his father’s play of the same name. Interestingly, he resumed his father’s troupe when the former took a break owing to an accident.

19. Saikumar: The son of Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair, he debuted as a child artiste and soon ventured into professional theatre. His stage performances helped him bag his first feature film.

20. Rajan P Dev: The son of noted stage actor SJ Dev and Kuttyamma, he kickstarted his acting career with various professional drama troupes, including NN Pillai’s. His breakthrough role was as Kochuvava in SL Puram Sadanandan’s play Kattukuthira (the role was later done by Thilakan when it was made into a film). Even when he acted in films, he maintained his connection with plays and founded the play troupe Jubilee Theatres.

 21. Mukesh: Born to theatre artists O Madhavan and Vijayakumari, he also started with dramas before making his big screen debut with Balloon in 1982.

22. Pauly Valsan: She was a theatre actor for 37 years before she made her big screen debut in Annan Thambi. Pauly began at the age of 11 and has been a prominent member of PJ Antony’s drama troupe.

23.  Savithri Sreedharan: She made her big screen debut with Zachariah's Sudani From Nigeria, after being in theatre for over three decades. She began with amateur dramas at the age of 16  and became part of professional drama troupes like Kalinga theatres, KTS, Sangamam theatres, Chiranthana theatres and Stage Inda. But when these theatres were shut down, she was forced to discontinue. 

24. MR Gopakumar: He started with G Sankara Pillai’s drama Rakshapurushan, which helped him identify his passion for acting. He was also one of the founding members of Narendra Prasad headed Natyagriham. After two decades of active theatre, he ventured into telefilms and later films. Mathilukal was his debut feature film. He continues to be active in the theatre front.  

25. Surabhi Lakshmi: She has an MA in Theatre Arts, with a merit scholarship from the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy, and an MPhil in Performing Arts and is actively doing theatre. She has won several awards including Best Actor (Female) at the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy and also at the Dubai Theatre fest. She may be counted as one of those few actors who continue to balance theatre and films with aplomb.

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