A cowboy once again

Thomas Burleigh Kurishingal  

The cowboy roles that he played in TV serials and Hollywood movies rise once again in Double Barrel, where businessman and veteran actor Thomas Burleigh Kurishingal plays the role of a villainous don. The 83-year-old, whose journey from Mollywood to Hollywood and back is quite the Bollywood style storyline says wittily, “I don’t know how many times I have been killed in the tavern. It seems my ability to die is better than my ability to live.” In Double Barrel he stars alongside top actors Prithviraj and Indraijith.

Kurishingal is a man of many parts. If as an actor he has played strong cameo roles, he is a successful businessman, writer, illustrator, artist and a musician. He has been feted with the KCBC Lifetime Achievement Award. His book, The Sacred Savage, a work of fiction based on 16th century history is set to release next month.

His tryst with the Malayalam film industry began early in 1954 when he played the lead role in Thiramala, a tragedy, famous for its music. This was followed by a spate of small but significant roles, which strangely did not see much success. In 1957, bitten by the acting bug, Kurishingal left Kerala to follow his Hollywood dreams. He would have no less. He took admission at the University of California to study Motion Pictures.

“I was taught by some known actors and directors that included Nancy Reagan,” he says recounting his days at the university.

Actor Dilip Kumar’s brother, Aslam Khan who was his roommate in college would later help him in his business. Here, Thomas wrote a screenplay, Maya and the Elephant, which was later made into a motion picture called Maya, shot at Mehboob Studios, Mumbai. He also starred in the film, Never So Few with Frank Sinatra and Gina Lollobrigidia. “I essayed a small role of an Indian on the Burma Front,” he says.

Actor Steve McQueen, who became his friend, signed him for his film with a story set in the American West. His successful role stereotyped him for more cowboy films to follow. He starred in Wanted Dead or Alive, Have Gun, Will Travel, Gun Smoke and such. “I was often mistaken for being a Mexican and could imitate Mexican English well,” says Thomas.

He waited for the big breakthrough but a business offer from roommate Aslam drew him to Mumbai. Concomitantly he began cartooning for magazines panels, ‘Thousand Jokes’ and ‘Big Brother Is Watching’. “Cartooning is in my blood,” says Thomas and has contributed to The Illustrated Weekly, Shankar’s Weekly and Current.

With some experience in the film industry and a sound business to boot Thomas produced two films, a suspense movie - Ithu Manushyano and a full length comedy, Velarikkapattanam. The films’ music was a hit. Thomas says that among his many creative pursuits it is music that he loves most. Writing and painting are his other passions to which he returns often. When not dabbling in films he turns to his easel in his studio at home in Fort Kochi or sits at his desk writing furiously. Beyond Heart, a work in prose-poetry, Fragrant Petals, a book of lyrics and O Kerala, an illustrated work on the State are some of his published works.

Earlier this year, for 22 days on the trot, Thomas was busy shooting on the golden beaches in Goa - scheming, killing, drawing blood - playing the role of a wily don, once again for a film that is training the spotlight on him again, after all those long years.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 7:22:11 PM |

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