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Updated: September 25, 2012 12:12 IST

Thilakan, rebel without a pause

George Jacob
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Malayalam actor Thilakan. File Photo: Mahesh Harilal
Malayalam actor Thilakan. File Photo: Mahesh Harilal

Acting was the only solace in a life scarred by emotional volatility

Surendranath Thilakan was a born rebel. He rebelled against his father, whose patriarchal ways disgusted him; against his mother, who tried to control him with her love; with colleagues, who tried to tame him with organizational discipline.

And, like an orphaned child trying again and again to get his act together, Thilakan rebelled against himself, putting together, bringing down and reinventing himself in myriad roles he donned.

“He was born to act,” says his childhood friend Samuel Zacharia who lives at Chotti, near Mundakayam “Acting was everything for him, the only solace in a life scarred by intense emotional volatility, for which he sacrificed everything else,” he says.

He should know. Just a year younger, he was with Thilakan at Mundakkayam where he spent his early years. As the second of the six children of Devayani and T.S. Kesavan, estate writer at TR&T Co, Thilakan enjoyed a middleclass lifestyle and the family was regarded high in society, he said.

The artiste in Thilakan was identified by his lower primary school teacher at St. Louis School, Mariyakkutty Aasatty, who encouraged her ward to act in one-act plays, remembers Mr. Zacharia.

They had acted in school plays together and, later, gave shape to the Mundakayam Dramatic Club. Thilakan, now ‘Mundakayam Thilakan’, was the producer, director, and the central character.

The rehearsal camps were his ‘worlds’ where he dominated his friends with his acting and directorial skills. He would print publicity materials and went round sticking bills announcing the drama. “He was totally immersed in theatre,” said Mr. Zacharia.

The first drama, Jeevvitham Avasanickunnilla, had Thilakan as a tyrannical father and Mr. Zacharia, as his son. Thilakan enacted a similar character years later - Chacko Master in Malayalam movie, Sphadikom. Both had shades of his own father who refused to acknowledge his son’s sensibilities. “Estate officials were like slave drivers at that time, strict and often tyrannical,” Mr. Zacharia remembers.

Acting and theatre were taboo for the middleclass family and his passion for acting cost Thilakan dearly, when it interfered in his relation with his own mother. In an interview he remembered: There were days when he had to go without food as his mother refused to provide him. While his siblings were sleeping after sumptuous dinner, he had to sneak out, get raw tapioca from their garden to douse his hunger.

Feeling an outcaste, Thilakan left home at the age of 19, for a life as actor. The rebellious streak followed Thilakan in his student days. He remembered at a public function here two years back - he was dropped from a school drama while in Kottayam but Thilakan got special permission, wrote a new play, cobbled up a new team and took the first prize in the competition.

His college days saw Thilakan honing his histrionic talents when he first came into contact with the school of method acting in Hollywood films but had to drop out from studies as he was found ‘indisciplined’ by the college authorities.

His career took him to leading theatre groups such as Kaladasa Kalakendram, KPAC, and Geedha before he entered the films. While the past three decades saw Thilakan donning roles after roles in Malayalam and south Indian films, he came back into the maternal lap of his beloved theatre once again in 2010- when he once again felt orphaned by his colleagues in the industry.

It was the time when the actor was suffering a boycott from the industry. His well-wishers in Ambalappuzha gave shape to a theatre group Akshara Jwala Theatres under whose banner the drama Itho Daivangalude Swantham Naadu? was presented in more than 100 venues.

Thilakan, enacting an aging freedom fighter, collapsed on stage at Chirayinkeezh. But, in his usual style Thilakan rebelled against his doctors who advised a week’s rest and was ready for the next show at Punalur.

Keywords: Thilakan


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I really respect this actor.He is really a superstar.Malayalam film industry really lost a gem.May his soul rest in peace.

from:  Sunanda Kurup
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 17:18 IST

This is the greatest loss to Malayalam cinema in every sense. Thilakan was an actor that could convey the most powerful emotions even when perfectly silent. Truly a remarkable human being as well to be so true to his beliefs and never surrender even against power-hungry horse-trading associations that are supposed to represent the industry. Is there any chance now to bring to book, those culprits who deprived malayalam cinema of gaining the last few years of this mighty gem? Shame on them.

from:  Sachin Mathew
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 06:46 IST

Great actors like him come only once in a lifetime!

from:  Le
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 01:05 IST

Thilakan could portray characters that are very exclusive and
exemplary. I think that he was no keeping any professional trait that
helps actors to get along with the industry wherein an integrated
association of Malayalam artists functioned under disciplined
doctrines. Though unintentional he became an anomalous personality to
the so called big stars who later on became his adversaries in many
ways. Arguments and counter arguments spoiled his image as well as of
those who could not abide him. The net result was that the audience of
Malayalam films lost him in celluloid for years. Despite a laudable
actor he is quoted for an erroneous example… for what actor is not
supposed to be…. I hereby convey my condolences to his family, friends
and the spectators of Malayalam films.

from:  Madan Menon Thottasseri
Posted on: Sep 25, 2012 at 19:06 IST

Now days all round faced people are artists. There is no need of sound variation, movement or expressions. Thilakan was a perfect exapmle of a perfect artist in the stage or cinema. Then so called Amma boycoted him. So, Cine lovers lost some FANTASTIC CHARTERS.

from:  Kandalloor Mohan
Posted on: Sep 25, 2012 at 17:15 IST

A great actor, a peremptory speaker, evoking strong thoughts for the malayalam film industry and common man. I've had a great opprunutinty to meet Thilakan, in a siminar for fifteen minutes and I feel really happy to have met him
People who boycotted him,might have their own views on how the film freternity should be, however, the essence of this views are today taking shape in malayalam cinema. A paradim change in the industry, where old, style, clans and also the so called superstars have become redundent
let God have take him on his abode.............

from:  Abdulla
Posted on: Sep 25, 2012 at 16:14 IST

I am not a great Malayalam movie freak, but of all those movies I have watched in my yester years I have always had a great feeling for Thilakan, he was a superb model role in Malayalam screen, with so much reality in his role, one could feel the impact of his character on screen with just appreciation. I only wish him peace and feel sorry for all those who disrespected him. Regarding his ban from Amma, guess it was all a display or pure selfishness with wicked minds, people blinded by richness and power. I hope some day we all realize one thing " we have come with nothing and shall depart with nothing, what you need most is people to remember you".

from:  Ashok Nair
Posted on: Sep 25, 2012 at 16:13 IST

Thilakan is an actor par excellance. May his soul rest in peace.

Posted on: Sep 25, 2012 at 14:01 IST

A great actor and simple man . The kerala film industry through their stupid association''amma'' boycotted this man for nothing and when he dies they come and shed crocodile tears and ''act'' their grief.

What will be the memory this great man would have carried with him when he died?

In future atleast these ''amma'' should have the grace to accept all and let all live gracefully.

from:  rajagopal
Posted on: Sep 25, 2012 at 13:59 IST
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