Last of the Malayalam character artistes’ passes away

Keerthi Prakasam


Surendranath Thilakan
15 July 1935 – 24 September 2012

In the far south of our nation, there’s a culture and people in a land that all of India fancy    visiting during vacations. But if you look into the theatres and films there, you will soon discover that apart from being the new age capitalists “God’s own country” owns a culture which reflects on life. As a starry eyed girl who grew up there, I didn’t just watch Malayalam films, I learnt from it. And I think, I turned out  alright, because the big screen of the humble Mollywood always portrayed for me stories that were as real as life, played by legends who could easily, without going through months and weeks of character training, essay the role of almost everyone I saw around.

And my own Perunthachan whom I hated for killing his own son, (in the film by the same name) but couldn’t hate him enough to not cry along with his agony, passed away today morning. . .
Surendranath Thilakan, 77, passed away this morning around 3. 45 am battling multiple organ failure for almost one month.

ACT I- Getting into the act

Thilakan’s first foray into acting was through theatre. Leaving college midway in 1956 he decided to pursue his passion for acting forming a small time theatre group along with friends called “Mundakayam Nataka Samithi”.  Moving on he worked with many theatre groups including P.J Antony’s group also performing several plays for All India Radio.

PJ Antony can rightly be called as his godfather when it comes to his career in films . . . After spending more than a decade in theatre it was PJ Antony’s movie “Periyar” that gave him his first break into films. It was much later, in the film “Ulkadal” that he got to prove his mettle as a born actor.

ACT II- Getting recognized

Bagging his first state award with his performance in “Yavanika” in 1981, almost all the characters that he played on screen will live for many, many more years.
“Perunthachan” was one of his greatest masterpieces. The story had traits of a Greek tragedy etched on to it, with an actor as brilliant as Thilakan portraying the father who kills his own son. The movie was sure to fetch him a national award. Though that year’s national award for the best actor was bagged by Amitabh Bachchan with theories of lobbying floating around following the latter’s announcement to retire that year.

But that was not the end of this legend, he came back with a plethora of roles ranging from the villainous step father in “Namukku Paarkan Munthiri Thoppukal” to the middle class father who dreams on about his son in “Kireedam” and finally to the old man trying to pass on his legacy to his grandson in “Ustad Hotel”.

He was honored with Padma Shri in 2009, got the National Jury’s special award for the Best Actor for his performance in “Ekantham” in 2007, and the National Award for the Best Supporting Actor in “Rithubedham” in 1988.

The acting maestro also appeared in about five Tamil films, but apart from this he remained as Malayalam cinema’s own father figure, occasional villain and a fighter and hero in real life. .

ACT III- Controversies and more

His occasional stints with the various groups or associations of the Malayalam film industry is what brought him to news for the past couple of years. He was invariably attacked due to his open nature.

He was suspended from the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA) several times, after which he became a voracious critic of the association and various lobbies of the industry. The show cause notice issued against him by the association denied director’s from casting him in various films. He also was bold enough to decide to act in a film by director Vinayan with whom the film fraternity had a fight going on.  All this ended up in him to be unofficially excluded from the field as such.  But the actor despite of being left alone voiced his opinions boldly and remained unapologetic about it (“The Malayalam superstars are highly insecure”, Thilakan. Interviewed by The issue gained importance and attention with the CPI’s trade union wing came for his support openly.

ACT IV- Surviving against all odds

Refusing to give up on acting he went back to theatre, directing the play “Itho Daivangalude Naadu” and giving life to the central character of a freedom fighter Surya Narayanan.

In 2011, AMMA revised its decision of his dismissal after which he gave a stunning performance in “Indian Rupee” and was applauded widely for his comeback performance. His last film on screen was “Usthad Hotel” in which he portrayed a powerful role along with Dulqar Salman. It seems almost ironic as he delivered his first major performance with actor Mammootty in “Ulkadal” and his last one with his son, Dulqar Salman.


In August 21 this year he collapsed during the filming of “Scene one- Nammude Veedu” and has been hospitalized ever since. He is survived by his sons Shaji Thilakan, Shammi Thilakan, Shibu Thilakan, Shobi Thilakan and daughters Sonia Thilakan and Sophia Thilakan.

The actor spent his lifetime acting, pursuing his passion and doing justice to the roles he was given. In a career that spanned more than fifty years he acted in over 200 films.

Yes, for the past couple of years Thilakan has been in news more for controversies than for being the acting legend that he already was. But even the dignitaries in the opposite camp could not deny one thing, to be an actor and to be an actor like Thilakan makes a lot of difference. . .

The history of Malayalam films would have been incomplete without him. And when I say that, I know that none can argue with me on that. The vacuum that you left will never be filled. . .


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