Way back in 2011, as I was watching Indian Rupee in Oberon Mall, Thilakan’s Achutha Menon expounds to Jayaprakash (Prithviraj) a trick on how to overcome a particular issue. And the latter stares at him in amazement and says – “Ithrayum kaalam evide aayirunnu” (Where were you all this while?). The audience around me erupted into applause for that line. Director Ranjith probably sensed what was running in the audience’s minds, because it’s really been a while since we’ve seen the maestro in action. This was due to the phase during 2010-2011 when Thilakan had a spat with A.M.M.A, the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists and he was banned from mainstream movies for several months.
He was a man of steadfast perspective and unwavering principles. This made him a force to be reckoned with for many in the Malayalam industry.
Even though Thilakan made his screen debut in 1971, it was in his 40s that he really found his footing in the industry. Since then, he never had to look back. Having appeared in more than 240 movies, the actor used 20 years of theatre experience to good effect to render each of his characters. His greatest asset as an actor, other than his iconic voice was the balancing act between theatricality and subtlety.
From comedy to villainy, from your next-door neighbour to underworld don, there is not a single genre or role that the actor couldn’t perform without ease and perfection.
Move over Anthony Hopkins – who won the Academy Award for Best Actor with 16 minutes of screen time – because we have our own version of that story. 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 was hardly present for 25 minutes in Rithubhedam which won him the National Award for Best Supporting Actor.
He would have turned 84 this week. And to that occasion, let’s take a look at some of the fantastic characters the legend brought to life.
Ananthan Nambiar (Nadodikkaattu, Pattanapravesham)
When people think of Thilakan, his humorous roles are not the ones that probably come to mind, but needless to say, the man excels in comedy! In fact, he’s right up there with Jagathy or Mohanlal as the best our industry has produced in the department. His portrayal of the iconic Ananthan Nambiar in both Nadodikattu and Pattanapravesham is villainous and funny with a tinge of paranoia. It’s also one of the rare moments when almost every single moment a character appears on screen, leaving the viewers in splits.
Each time Ananthan Nambiar jumped at the knock on a door or the ring of a bell, we laughed. Whenever he said “Hellooooo Mr Parrera!” or “CIDs escape!”, we laughed till our stomach hurt. When he sat there crestfallen, saying –”Angane Pavanayi Shavamayi.. Malappuram Kaththi…“, we laughed.
Despite all the comedy of errors, he was hailed as one of the dreaded underworld dons in his terrain, though he couldn’t tell the difference between CIDs and jobless youths. It was difficult to imagine Thilakan in that role, yet he pulled it off brilliantly. Not only did he make us crackle with his hilarious one-liners, but he was also remarkably likeable. He continued the act in the second edition and shared some excellent moments with Karamana and Sreenivasan.
They say the heroes are only as good as the villains, and to that effect, I think Thilakan’s Ananthan Nambiar deserves as much praise as the Dasan-Vijayan duo.
Kochu Thoma (Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal)
Thilakan always excelled in father roles, and Kochu Thoma from Veendum Chila Veetukaryangal had a shade of almost all other father characters he had portrayed. He played the easy-going, funny, friendly father and then, after a drastic shift in character occurred, he turned into a cold, distant yet loving father. He gave such an earnest performance that he was actually considered as the lead of the movie. Towards the end, we too did nod in agreement with Roy (Jayaram) when he says,”Appanaanappa sherikkum nadan!”
One may wonder how this character found its place in my favourite’s list. In a movie with so many well written and iconic characters, Thilakan managed to create a niche for himself and is, in fact, one of my favourite characters from the movie. He’s the obedient son to Anjooran and the loving and protective older brother to his siblings. What could’ve been easily a one-dimensional character, developed and flourished under Thilakan’s care. Not convinced? Refer the remakes to see how this exact same character was essayed by different actors. With Thilakan, you can actually feel the guilt and pain that he carried, and for a good reason. It was his wedding that became the linchpin for the all-out war between the two families. This also fuelled his rage during the action sequences. With the depth and gravitas he brought to the role, he didn’t even have to perform stunts to sell his mass factor.
The scene in which he goes behind enemy lines alone and threatens them to their face is one of my favourite scenes in the movie. Aanapparel Achama and her entire brigade just stay silent throughout the monologue.
Sometimes I watch Godfather just for the Thilakan scenes.
Perumthachan’s Raman is an excellent example of actor Thilakan’s supreme acting prowess and any discussion about the actor would be incomplete without this movie. Thilakan had demonstrated that he was capable of taking on any role effortlessly, but Perumthachan marked the peak of Thilakan’s filmography. He proved that when it comes to versatility, he had no equal.
He played, with enviable ease, the complex character of the master carpenter who ends up having to kill his own son. He narrowly missed out on the National Award for it.
An unusual choice again, I know. This movie was one of the most gripping thrillers Mollywood had to offer, penned by Raghunath Paleri and directed by Sathyan Anthikkad, a departure from his comfort zone. Mohanlal essayed the role of Capt. Vijay Menon, a military man who came home for a brief vacation. But it’s through Thilakan’s Kumarettan that we’re introduced to this world, and even though his character dies within the first 10 minutes, he is omniscient throughout the movie. Through sheer coincidence, Vijay’s and Kumarettan’s paths cross, and he is eventually led to the mystery around his father’s death. This is an example of a very well written movie, with a very well written character being elevated with Thilakan’s performance. Kumarettan haunts you like he haunts Capt. Vijay Menon.
Muthasshan (Moonnam Pakkam)
It is not every day that a mainstream Malayalam Cinema could be conceived with an 85-year-old man as the hero. But, then, there was nothing ordinary about the Actor or the Director. Moonam Pakkam, directed by Padmarajan, was released in 1988. Thilakan efficiently handled the complexity of the character Thampi, the grandfather. Thilakan’s performance in the film was widely praised and is considered to be one of his best. This is him at his most compassionate, reminding us of someone close in our own family. When ‘muthasshan’ greets and hugs his grandson with tears and a smile, it is difficult to not be moved. Or the scene in which he holds the clothes of his dead grandson.
Moonnam Pakkam is a heartbreaking movie, one that is so sweet, yet so sad. And Thilakan’s performance drives home all the feels.
Paul Pailokaaran (Nammukk Paarkaan Munthiri Thoppukal)
Now, I’m not a massive fan of Love Stories in general, mostly because I believe that Malayalam cinema has very little to offer in the department. And the ones we have are uber cheesy, like Aniyathupraav or Thattathin Marayath. But that said, my favourite love story is in fact from Malayalam cinema; directed by Padmarajan, it is Nammukk Paarkan Munthiri Thoppukal. Solomon and Sophie’s love story should’ve been just another run of the mill, cookie-cutter movie. But Thilakan’s cold, menacing villain in the form of Paul Pailokkaran elevates the story. From the outside, he comes across as the benevolent patriarch who took in a single mother and her child, providing them a new life. But inside the house, he is cunning, calculating and willing to take advantage by stating that he owns them. Paul Pailokkaaran was Shammi from Kumbalangi before it went mainstream. NPMT is one of the very few Malayalam movies that took a stand about a girl’s dignity not being defined by virginity, a stand against domestic abuse and rape.
Nammukk Paarkan Munthiri Thoppukal is a movie that would be and should be discussed in years to come, and Thilakan’s contribution to the movie is extensive.
Chacko Maash (Sphadikam)
Chacko Maash is the quintessential Thilakan performance. The believability he brings to a role that is essentially a loud character is the reason why, throughout most of my childhood, it was hard for me to separate the character and the actor. In this film, Thilakan plays an obstinate, headstrong Mathematics teacher who believes that Maths is the ultimate truth. “Bhoogolathinte Spandhanam” he calls it. Yet he works with a faulty formula when it comes to raising his kids. Every time he tries to force-feed mathematical formulae into his teenaged son’s head, he inadvertently crushes the kid’s dreams. Thilakan’s appearance too, with his thick eyebrows and perpetual scowl, ensures us of his unlikeability. And Thilakan simply owned the role. Which is why to this day you associate “ba ba bbaa” to binomial equations.
But it’s the depth he brings to this role that stays over time! When I was little, I utterly despised Chacko Maash and his methods. But now that I’m older, I can see why he thought his son, who has a great future in engineering, might need Maths to survive. True, his methods were not perfect, but life’s never entirely fair, is it?
Achuthan Nair (Kireedom)
Kireedom, written by Lohithadas and directed by Sibi Malayil is one of the very few movies that depict the story of a protagonist who ultimately fails and loses everything in life. Even when they came back in a sequel, things didn’t get any better for him and his family. Lohithadas added dimensions of a Shakespearian tragedy, and Thilakan and Mohanlal gave everything they had. Thilakan played a man whose only ambition in life was to see his son doing better than him. And Mohanlal also coming up with one of his finest-ever performances. Sethumadhavan’s (Mohanlal) fall is inevitably linked to the ambition and righteousness of his middle-aged father, constable Achuthan Nair.
The climax scene in which Achuthan Nair’s heart-wrenching appeal to his son reverberates in your mind — “Mone, ninde achanada parayunne, kaththi thaazhe idraa!”. It is one of the most emotional scenes that have not yet been ruined by memes. Thilakan’s heartfelt, power packed performance is one of the reasons why Sethumadhavan remains a painful enduring memory.
Uppuppa / Kareemka (Ustad Hotel)
This is what I’d like to believe the swan song of his collective career. Thilakan’s take on Kareemka, the titular Ustad, is hands down his most lovable performance of all time. Thilakan played the dear old granddad who imparts wisdom about the magic of food, suleimani, love and life to his awe-struck grandson.
“Every suleimani should have a bit of mohabbat in it.”- he says.
Be it the way he narrates the love story from his yesteryears to an excited Faizi (Dulquer Salman). Or his underplayed consternation when Faizi gets the call to go abroad and he realizes that he’s going to lose his grandson again. Or that final scene at a dargah in Ajmer, when he finds the ultimate peace and waits for the desert rain. Throughout the movie Thilakan breathes life into Kareemka with charming serenity . The final scene from the movie is also how I believe we, as fans would like to remember him by.
This is a very personal list and I’m sure I’ve missed out many of his other brilliant, engaging performances. Be it the sensitive father progressively getting tired of the political quarrels between his sons in Sandesham, or a lower caste man’s rise to power and his revenge in Kaattukuthira. As a man who is abandoned by his wife and children because of a misunderstanding in Gamanam or the role of a man who has to feign his own death so that his family could benefit in Santhanagopalam. Or two ends of being a don in Sanmanassillavarkk Samadhanam and Kauravar.
Just reminiscing through his many performances over the year made me realise that the void he left in the industry is ever present. And we may never be able to fill it. That is his legacy.