Innocent, who died in Kochi late on Sunday aged 75, was one of Indian cinema’s greatest comedic talents. A cancer survivor, he had been keeping unwell for a while and was undergoing treatment at a private hospital.
A medical bulletin issued by the hospital said Innocent was admitted there on March 3 due to respiratory ailments following Covid infection and that he had been shifted to the ICU after a respiratory infection. He died due to these ailments, multi-organ failure and heart attack, it added.
He is survived by his wife, son and grandchildren.
He acted in about 500 Malayalam films. He was a producer, author and former MP of Chalakudy. He also went on to become the president of Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA).
Not many people have made the Malayali laugh the way Innocent did. He was brilliant as an actor in his films, most of which had him do comedy, but off the screen, he was funnier. His first book, Njan Innocent, would alone prove that. It is also one of the finest books on childhood you would come across. It is, of course, as an actor that the world has known him better. He was in a class of his own.
In a career spanning over five decades, Innocent gave life to some of the most loved characters of Malayalam cinema. Life had been a struggle for him though, before he finally made it as an actor: he had tried and failed in many endeavours.
He tried to run a match factory in Davangere and also dabbled in other businesses as well. He also tried to be a career politician (he was an office-bearer of the RSP).
But he must have known that his future was in cinema, so he left his hometown Irinjalakuda for Chennai, where he struggled for several years before finding stardom. Along with his friend, David Kachappilly, he formed a production company, which made memorable films belonging to the middle cinema category, such as Vida Parayum Munpe and Ilakkangal.
After doing small roles, Malayalam cinema woke up to his extraordinary talent in the 1980s, through films like Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu – a world-class film with a brilliant script and outstanding performances – Ramji Rao Speaking, one of Malayalam cinema’s biggest, though unexpected, box office hits, Vadakkunokkiyanthram, Varavelpu, Pradeshika Varthakal, and Mazhavil Kavadi, the film which won him the State Award for the best supporting actor for his portrayal of a cruel patriarch.
His popularity soared through his superb shows in films such as Kilukkam – his scenes alongside Thilakan and Revathy have assumed iconic status – Gajakesariyogam, No. 20 Madras Mail, Sandesam, Devasuram, Godfather and Mithunam. It didn’t take him long to prove that he was among the finest character actors of Malayalam cinema. He was a natural.
Innocent, the MP
In 2014, he created history when he won the general elections from Chalakudy as an Independent candidate supported by the Left Democratic Front.
It was a first for Kerala, where the people don’t accept stardom as an easy ticket for electoral success, unlike other South Indian States.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his Cabinet colleagues, former leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala and other leaders condoled the death of the veteran actor.
(With inputs from Kochi Bureau)