GK Pillai, grand old actor of Malayalam cinema, dies at 97

He was known for his villain roles, ‘vadakkanpaatu’ characters and unique dialogue delivery.
GK Pillai in Kannoor Deluxe
GK Pillai in Kannoor Deluxe
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Known for the many villain roles he donned and his unique way of dialogue delivery, Malayalam actor GK Pillai passed away on the morning of Friday, December 31. The 97-year-old died in his home in Idava, near Varkala in Thiruvananthapuram. In a career spanning 67 years, he acted in more than 300 films.

Pillai was known for his roles in 'vadakkanpaattu' films, a genre of movies based on old ballads from the medieval period. These include Othenente Makan, Thumbolarcha and Thacholi Ambu among others. He also became one of the first to play a villain in Malayalam cinema. Some of his notable performances come in Kannoor Deluxe, Mindapennu, Danger Biscuit, Lottery Ticket, Nairu Pidicha Pulivalu and Light House.

In Danger Biscuit, he played a double role as a nice police inspector and a villain, who impersonates the inspector. In Mindapennu, he became the stubborn dad to a son who believes only in “love marriage” and softens in the end.

Pillai acted alongside Prem Nazir, one of the lead actors of the time, in many films. He was reportedly introduced to cinema through Nazir, whom he met in the days he worked for the Indian Army. Pillai joined the military force as a 15-year-old, reports Mathrubhumi. He began acting 15 years later, in the film Snehaseema, playing a character called Pooppally Thomas. Pillai soon became noticed for his dialogue delivery and unique voice. A number of films followed – Achanum Makanum, Swargarajyam, Sthanarthi Saramma, Ashwamedham among them. He became part of films based on major protests in real life like Punnapra Vayalar and Vimochanasamaram.

Pillai remained active till the 1980s and took it slow afterward. In the mid-2000s, he began acting in television serials. He received lifetime achievement awards for his television work from three different channels.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan paid condolences to the actor, who, he said, had a unique acting style and found a place among different generations of viewers. His more than six decades of acting began from the days of black and white cinema and ended with television series, the CM said. Minister for Culture, Saji Cheriyan also paid tribute, saying how GK Pillai played both the villain and the nice grandpa roles equally well. 

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