Not a mega star. Nor a supreme or superstar.But one that would outlive his death with refreshing as well as haunting memories of roles with wide ranging perspectives.That was Thilakan, whose death was an agonizing loss for the film industry in general and for the talent-hungry Malayalam film family in particular.If you looked through his eyes,you would see there, a galaxy of characters,noble,enlightened,dignified,honest,loving,manipulative,crooked and sex-prone.He was the one and the only actor in Malayalam cinema, who could impressively portray the Jekyll and Hyde of the human face. With in his husky and hoarse voice was hidden, a cartload of human emotions.
'Indian Rupee', was the last of Thilakan's movies I saw and in that, as the forlorn and haggard old man called Achutha Menon, his appearance,delivery of dialogue and delineation of the character of a neglected soul were heart rending.There was a sense of longing in his face that was totally gripping. At the end of the movie, the news of the death of Achudha Menon leaving an unexpected legacy to his new- found young friend [Played by PrithviRaj] would have brought tears to a large section of the audience as much as it did to the hero.
Thilagan in father roles, has come out with an impeccable portrayal of several dimensions of paternity. In 'Sathyam' as the unduly punished head constable Ayyappan Nair, he effectively underplayed the emotions of an affectionate and aspiring father who wanted to see his son as a police officer. Though, it was almost a similar kind of character,with a different story background that he had played earlier in 'Kireedam' as Mohanlal's father Thilakan made it a completely different role.In between these two movies was 'Spatikam' in which the veteran played the role of a rigid schoolmaster suppressing the dreams and aspirations of his intelligent son by his old school thoughts.As a strict father with the hidden stigma of running a parallel family,Thilakan beautifully brought out the umpteen shades of a cruel father's role with a hidden store of softness.This character,with Mohanlal as his son,was a milestone in Thilakan's career.
His other role as a learned judge [Justice Karunakara Menon] and father of a murder-accused son [again Mohanlal] in 'Narashimham' became another grand show of an exalted paternal frame of mind,befitting his position,. 'The Truth' was the other movie in which as Patteri, an enlightened soothsayer-cum-astrologer and as the loving father of a dedicated CBI officer[played by Mammooty] Thilakan essayed his role with ease poise and dignity. As a friendly father in 'Aniyathipravu', [from Fazil's aesthetic brain] it was an endearing display of fatherhood that Thilakan performed as Boban's father.Again in 'Chintamani Kolacase' he was a helpless and pathetic father encountering the mysterious death of his daughter, following the ruthless denial of an MBBS seat on merit. It was another moving demonstration of devoted fatherhood.
Thilakan's performance as school Principal in 'Makande Achan' and as Nambhoodhiri
in 'Manichitrathazhu' and as Chekutty Mudhalali in 'Kilichundan Mambazham' brought to light his versatility as a character actor.
The profile of negative characters played by Thilakan seems to be a heap of the underworld stuff. But before that, a word of appreciation must be said about the Machiavellian stepfather role he played in 'Namakkum Parkaam Mundhirithoppugal' with a fiendish mindset to molest his step daughter.It was a performance capable of generating a wave of contempt and aversion from the film viewers specially from the woman section of the audience.But an actor of Thilakan's mould would think more of his capacity to perform such a character rather than his image as an actor.He excelled in that role with a passion for genuine portrayal. It was with a similar passion for variety,he donned a hateful role in Tamil 'Alibaba' [a film of Prakash Raj and Krishna as father and son] as an old man with a lust for voyeuristic sex that made him brutally hunt for girls, without any qualms.
For reasons not known,this granary of acting skill, was always used to play negative roles as a criminal and gangster head in all Tamil films starting from 'Ayudha Poojai' of Arjun to the recent 'Bala' starred by Shyam.But his role as a notorious and irredeemable underworld Don in 'Chathriyan' from the Mani Rathnam banner will be a lasting monument of his contribution to Tamil Cinema. Suresh Gopi's 'Randam Bhavam' projecting him as Govindji was another sample of Thilakan's stylistic exposure of an underworld Patriarch. Thilakan's performance as a fake soothsayer and village priest in Sundar.C 'Mettukkudi' also needs a special mention. His boldness in not getting his voice dubbed in almost all his Tamil movies,should be commended.
Before I conclude,I must confess that I would have watched only a few of Thilagan movies in Malayalam and I had to restrict the tone of my tribute to that actor- titan in terms of only those movies.I really feel bad about missing most of his other quality show of talent. Leaving that apart, how many heroes were, and will be, fortunate to have their funerals observed with State Honours? Surendranath Thilakan had that credit and he rightly deserved it too.