National award-winning Malayalam film actor Thilakan is dead. He was 77.

Thilakan, who had acted in around 200 films and had won the national award for the best actor in a supporting role, died at a private hospital in Thiruvananthapuram around 3.30 a.m. on Monday after battling with multiple organ failure over the last one month.

Thilkan's body would be kept for public viewing at the Victoria Jubilee Memorial Town Hall in Thiruvananthapuram from 11 a.m. and cremated at the electric crematorium around 4 p.m.

Thilakan was born at Ayroor (now in Pathanamthitta district) on July 15, 1938. And he was born to act. His tryst with acting began while he was still at school. Acting – or theatre, to be more precise – was his vocation. It did not take him too long to make a mark as an exceptional performer on stage. His mentor P.J. Antony was his biggest influence in his theatre days.

Though he made his debut in cinema in 1972 with Periyar, it was with K.G. George’s Kolangal (1981) that he truly arrived in the tinsel town. As a drunkard, he put in a superb performance in a brilliantly written and directed film. It was followed by Yavanika, another masterpiece from Geroge, in which Thilakan played a theatre manager.

The film went on to attain cult status in Malayalam cinema, and though it was Mammootty, as sub inspector Jacob Eraly, who gained most from its success, Thilakan too made a huge impact.

Films like Panchagni, Dhwani, Sanmanassullavarkku Samadhanam, Namukku Parkkan Munthirithoppukal, Rithubhedam, Jathakam and Nadodikkattu established him as a versatile actor.

Then came Kireedom, in 1989. As Achuthan Nair, an ageing police constable who sees the dream for his son getting shattered, his performance was critically acclaimed. Many of his scenes with Mohanlal from Kireedom shows his mastery in acting.

Now, roles were written for him. A luxury often only the superstars could boast of.

Like in 1980s, the golden age of Malayalam cinema, the 90s also saw Thilakan giving life to one memorable character after another. He was the hero in films such as Kattukuthira, Perunthachan, Santhangopalam, Gamanam and his performances were no less than the heroes in films such as Sandesam, Kilukkam, Georgekutty C/O Georgekutty, Radhamadhavam, Kauravar, Sphadikam and Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal.

Age did not wither him as the new millennium too witnessed masterpieces from the actor. Films like Ekantham and Achan and more recently Indian Rupee and Ustad Hotel reminded us, yet again, that he was in a class of his own.

Ekantham fetched him a special jury award in 2007. He had won the National award for the best supporting actor for Rithubhedam in 1988.

He won the State award for the best actor twice, for Perunthachan (1990) and Gamanam and Santhanagopalam (both released in1994). He was the recipient of the second State best actor on six occasions, beginning with Yavanika (1982); the last was for Kattathoru Penpoovu (1998).

He would be a strong contender for an award in Ustad Hotel, one of his last releases, too, as the jury meets to decide the State Awards next year.

Thilakan, of course, had dominated the headlines more for controversies than his films over the last four years. He took on the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA), which expelled him and he also faced a ban. Politicians and cultural icons, including Sukumar Azhikode, batted for him, but he was not part of the mainstream cinema for a while. But these couldn't stop Thilakan from acting.

Thilakan returned to deliver an impressive performance with Indian Rupee, which fetched rave reviews.

“I have never got as many phone calls as I did for Indian Rupee and that made me happy,” he had admitted. “I think people loved to see my comeback also because I had fought against certain evil practices in Malayalam cinema.”

They would have loved to see him act, anyway. They always have.

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