5 years without Thilakan: A void in Malayalam cinema that is still unfilled

His most amazing gift was to find a very fine balance between the ‘theatrical’ and the ‘subtle’ and the ‘expressive’ and the ‘instinctive’.
5 years without Thilakan: A void in Malayalam cinema that is still unfilled
5 years without Thilakan: A void in Malayalam cinema that is still unfilled
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There was a phase during 2010-2011 when Thilakan had a spat with AMMA, the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists and he was banned from mainstream movies for several months.

It was with Indian Rupee in October 2011 that the actor finally made a comeback.

Just a few moments into the movie, his character, Achutha Menon makes a moving speech on how today’s youth needs to change their perception on dowry. The groom in the film is impressed and changes his mind. The viewers were impressed too.

Director Ranjith rightly sensed what could be running in the audience’s minds. A few scenes later, when Achutha Menon offers Jayaprakash (Prithviraj) a trick on how to handle a land deal, the latter says – “Ithrayum kaalam evide aayirunnu” (Where were you all this while?). The audience in the cinema halls couldn’t help but applaud and cheer to that line.

September 24 marks Thilakan’s fifth death anniversary. Only three months before his demise, Thilakan gave another hugely memorable performance in Ustad Hotel, bringing alive Anjali Menon’s lines on screen with a quiet dignity. This ensured that the actor left the audience feeling that they haven’t had enough of him. His demise has left a void which hasn't been filled in the last five years.

Though Thilakan made his big screen debut in 1971, it was after the age of 43 that he really found his feet in Malayalam cinema. The actor used 20 years of his early experience in theatre to good effect in celluloid, appearing in over 240 movies. His most amazing gift was to find a very fine balance between the ‘theatrical’ and the ‘subtle’ and the ‘expressive’ and the ‘instinctive’, according to what a character or a situation in a movie demanded.

From comedy to villainy, from your next door neighbour to underworld don, there was not a single genre or role that the actor couldn’t perform without ease and perfection.

Thilakan’s comic timing ranked along the likes of Mohanlal and Jagathy, the best our industry has produced in the department. His portrayal of the iconic Ananthan Nambiar in both Nadodikattu and Pattanapravesham is one of the rare times when almost every single moment a character appears on screen is outright hilarious.

Each time Ananthan Nambiar trembled at the knock on a door or the ring of a bell, we laughed. Whenever he said “CID escape” or “Oh My God”, we laughed. When he sat there depressed saying –“Angane Pavanayi Shavamayi”, we laughed. The next moment when he asked “Ninnodu njan chaya chodichillallo Kunjiraama”, we again laughed. And when he yelled “Prabhakaraa”, we just laughed even more.

Equally brilliant is his portrayal of Keshavan, an inmate of a hospital for the mentally ill in Mookilla Rajyathu. Keshu has a straight face when he strips in front of a crowd or when he walks through a gate (as others climb over the wall) or when he performs breakdance in a song. When Justice Pillai (Thilakan) in Kilukkam runs out of words in his fury with Nandini (Revathi), the result was just as impactful.

It is also the same man who gave Malayalam cinema perhaps its finest villain in Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal. When Paul Pailokkaran looks at his step daughter with lust in his eyes, it sent chills through us and made us despise him.

There are several movies that showcase Thilakan’s strength in emotional scenes, but one that springs to the mind is the classic Kireedam. Why the makers of Kireedam adjusted their entire schedule to accommodate Thilakan in the movie is apparent in the climax when Achuthan Nair begs his son – “Ninte Achanada parayunne, kathi thaazhe ideda” (It's your father who is saying this, drop your knife!)

Another notable fact is how even in portraying a father on screen, Thilakan could bring in such rich variations. In Perumthachan, Raman dropped a chisel to kill his own son out of jealousy. In Sphadikam, Chacko master was a disciplinarian who wouldn’t settle until he saw his son as a mathematician like him. In Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal on the other hand, Kochu Thoma and his son were close friends who shared secrets with each other.

Thilakan made all these fathers look equally convincing on screen.

The magnitude of Thilakan’s acting prowess and screen presence would be further realized when you look at how he walked away with accolades even in movies where he played a small role or just made a guest appearance. KG George’s Yavanika had a battalion of fine actors. But it was Thilakan who won the state award for best supporting actor in only his fifth movie.

Similarly Thilakan is hardly present for 25 minutes in Rithubhedam which won him the National Award for Best Supporting Actor. Who can forget Damodarji in Sanmanassullavarkku Samadhanam and his dialogue “Ee dhairyam njan ente Charles Sobhrajil mathrame kanditullu” (I've only seen this daring in Charles Sobhraj) giving the movie easily its best moment.

I personally loved Thilakan most when he portrayed compassion, reminding us of someone close in our own family. In Moonnam Pakkam, when Thampi greets and hugs his grandson with tears and a smile, it is difficult to not be moved. In Sandesham, you felt sorry for Raghavan Nair who was helpless at the dining table when swamped by the quarrels of his two sons.

In Sathyan Anthikad’s Kudumbapuranam, when Sankaran Nair can only look through the window at the baby but not hold or feel his own grandson, your heart goes out to him. In Kireedam, when Achuthan Nair finds out that his son is eating food from outside, he still has a gentle smile and tells him that he need not control his diet if he felt hungry.

This warmth which Thilakan gives you, letting you believe that those characters are not on screen but right in front of you- I have seldom found in another actor in these 5 years.

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