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Southern Spice: Untold stories of Thilakan

Legendary actor Thilakan continues to live through the memories that he has left behind

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Thilakan continues to live through the memories that he has left behind. The legendary Malayalam actor, who died in August aged 77, was famously outspoken and had few friends in the industry, even being cast out from the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes after suggesting that the industry’s older stars should make way for younger actors. Yet some of his peers took time out to recall their memories of the star.

National awardee Malayalam director Jayaraj:

“I have directed him only in one film, ‘Sopanam,’ in which Mr Thilakan appears in a flashback. I was initially intimidated by him but his presence in the film gave me strength.

However, I knew him from my years as assistant director to Bharatan and have heard stories about his school days at M.T. Seminary High School, Kottayam where he was often up on stage in plays directed by John Abraham who was also studying there. It seems he would imitate Marlon Brando very well and once his teacher remarked, ‘Don’t imitate others, and bring in your style.’ The story goes that since that day Thilakan developed his own style of performance.

In my opinion, he is a universal actor, on a par with performers like Brando. Subtle acting was his forte, right from his school days. He had this amazing ability to modulate dialogue to suit a role and then rendered them perfectly, merging completely into his character. No other actor in the industry can match this trait of Thilakan.

He was truthful to his career, a bold man who treated drama and cinema with the same passion. His commitment to work was pure. During the time he was banned from the industry, he went back to his first love, drama. He fought single-handedly against the establishment without the support of anyone in the industry. A genuine human being, Thilakan was sensitive, caring and a great nature lover.

He always encouraged new scriptwriters to join the industry and had this ability to connect the right scriptwriters to directors. One such combination of talent that he brought about was the duo Sibi Malayil and Lohithadas.

Thilakan was unique and one who can be counted among the top ten actors in the world.

Director Anil Kumar:

“He was an artiste of a different calibre. On arriving on the set, after going through the script he often suggested improvisations in the dialogues, probably a shuffle in the arrangement of the words in a line to bring out its expression.

I remember an incident that happened on the set of my film, ‘Kudumbavishesham.’ Thilakan played a father of six and was paired opposite Kaviyoor Ponnamma. One scene required him to cry over the death of his wife. Thilakan came up with a suggestion. He spoke about having observed his neighbour mourn the loss of a close family member and that person overwhelmed by sorrow had initially laughed instead of cried. Thilakan wanted to try that. And he enacted that scene exactly how he remembered his neighbour finally broke down in tears. That was an extraordinary performance. Another memory that comes to mind is from the set of ‘Kalabham.’ We were shooting in Tenkasi. That day he was bleeding through his nose, yet he did not let that come in the way of his work. He packed his nostrils with cotton and continued with his scenes. After each shot he would remove the cotton from his nostrils, which would be soaked in blood and then continue with a fresh cotton. At the end of the day, he drove back to Trivandrum on his own, refusing our help to escort him home.

Thilakan was a bold man, too much actually.”

Actor Dulquer Salman worked with Thilakan in his last film, ‘Ustad Hotel’

“Thilakan uncle was extremely patient and very professional, not intimidating at all. I felt comfortable the instant I worked with him. The only thing I made sure was that I did my homework and learnt my lines before my scenes with him, so that his time was not wasted through an error of my own. I remember he was extremely independent and proud even though he was weak and had undergone hip surgery. Thilakan uncle would always insist on walking without anybody’s support. I found that very inspiring and I think youngsters should strive to be as independent as we can and take that lesson well into our older years.

I personally think one film isn’t enough to learn from Thilakan uncle. I really think me and my generation have lost out on the chance to observe and learn from working with Thilakan uncle. For his nuances and detailing into his performance are most visible on screen. There were so many reactions and expressions in ‘Ustaad Hotel’ which I didn’t catch when we were acting together, but translated so magically on screen. Those are the lessons I think. Because no matter how small the expression, or how small the detail, the camera captures it all for the audience to see on the big screen.”