The departure of Thilakan left a vacuum in Malayalam cinema at various levels: it was not just the exit of a thespian from the film scene, an actor who combined in himself professional commitment and artistic excellence of the highest order, but also of someone who dared to talk back to powers-that-be, whether it be in cinema or life.
His life was a turbulent one, especially in the last decade, when he was systematically sidelined for boldly taking on the various powerful establishments like the ‘professional’ film industry organisations and the superstars. His commitment to his art too was total and unconditional, something that he proved every time an opportunity came his way. Even the last films that he did under extreme physical conditions, such as Ardhanari (where he played the role of a transgender) and Ustad Hotel, stand testimony to his mastery over the art and craft of acting.
This book sketches in very ‘bold’ strokes the man and mind behind that powerful onscreen actor. The first part of the book consists of an autobiographical journey through Thilakan’s life in his own words, which, like his acting style, is forthright and hard hitting. They recount his early years in Mundakkayam, his troubled relationship with an authoritarian father, his fatal attraction for theatre, childhood friendships and adventures of student days, eventual estrangement from family, and later his eventful life in theatre and film.
Never does Thilakan try to cover up his trails or indulge in exaggerations; the ups and downs in his relationships, love-hate affairs with his colleagues, misunderstandings and quarrels, follies and misadventures, everything is laid bare in all its intimacy and passion. Here is a man who defied several establishments in life: he was ousted from his family in his teens, and never again was he to take refuge in the institution of family in his life. In cinema, when he was sidelined, he never compromised on his ideals to make up with them.
On the one side, his reminiscences demolish some of our favourite icons, but it also fondly brings to life several dedicated and committed souls who gave everything to theatre and cinema. The second part of the book, which is a continuation of the first, attempts to fill the gaps in Thilakan’s autobiographical account with more details.
The third part titled ‘The Thilakan I Know - Reminiscences of Fellow Travellers’ provides an interesting mix of memoirs and obituaries by his colleagues from film and theatre, friends and family members. This part holds a very curious mirror to the first person account in the first part. Here, we come across a lot of celebrities reminiscing about Thilakan, many of whose names figure in the first part as persons he fought tooth and nail during the bleakest periods of his life. Inclusion of such mutually contradictory accounts could be due to exigencies of time, as the book was brought out soon after Thilakan’s demise. But it does provide an interesting interface between an autobiographical account of a person and the reminiscences of others about him, where in many occasions, both provide totally contradictory versions about the very same incidents and instances.
Looked at from that perspective, this is a book about the exasperating need for dialogue, compassion and understanding; and also about our vanity and how death makes absurd any amount of posthumous repentance and remorse. The appendix of the book provides a complete filmography of Thilakan in chronological order.
Thilakan: Jeevitham, Orma
Compiled by Sajil Sreedhar