Surendranatha Thilakan, more popularly known as Thilakan was one of Malayalam cinema’s most prominent actors. He was one of the few actors who was awarded a Padma Bhushan (India’s highest Civilian Award), and was affectionately called Perumthachan (Master Craftsman) of the Malayalam Cinema industry.
Born on the 15th of July, 1935 in Ayroor, Travancore, Kerala, he began his acting career as a thespian when he left intermediate college mid-way to pursue this career as a fulltime option in 1956. Having formed a troupe with a few friends, called the Mundakayam Nataka Samithy, he performed at various venues including the Kerala People’s Arts Club till 1966, followed by sessions at the Kalidasa Kala Kendra, P.J Antony’s troupe, Changanacherry Geetha, and several radio plays for the All India Radio.
Thilakan began his movie career in the P.J Antony movie Periyar (1973), and then in Gandharvakshetram and Ulkadal in 1979. He found his first lead role in the character of Kallu Varkey in Kolangal (1981). He was also awarded his first State Award for the role in Yavanika in 1981. He received the National Film Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Rithubendham. He won two more State Awards in 1994, and 1998 for his roles in Santhanagopalam and Gamanam.
The most notable milestone, in his diverse career was probably the movie Kireedam, where he played the role of a helpless policeman watching his son slowly evolve into a rowdy under society’s influence (the son was played by Mohanlal). Some of his other notable movies include Chenkol, Moonnam Pakkam, Mookkilla Rajyathu, Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal,
, Kaattu Kuthira.
He had also acted in several Tamil and Telugu movies, making him one of the most versatile actors in the South Indian movie industry. Among the most popular roles played by Thilakan, the repeating motif was that with Mohanlal where they played a father-son duo, including the hits Kireedam,
, Spadikam, Pavithram, Chenkol. He also reprised father roles with other popular actors such as Mammootty in Sangham,
, No. 1 Snehatheeram Bangalore North; with
, with Dileep in
; Jayaram in Sandesham, and Veendum Chila Veettu Karyangal.
He also showed his versatility with negative roles including that of a don in Randam Bhavam, Kaalal Padam; comic roles in movies including Pattanapravesham, Nadodikkattu; as a narcissist in Naaduvazhikal; as a pimp in Kuttettan, apart from lead roles in many movies including My Dear Muthachan, Mikhamudra, Kaattukuthira, Perumthachan, Santhanagopalam etc.
In his lifetime, Thilakan was the recipient of several awards including three National Awards, nine Kerala State Film Awards, three
Filmfare Awards South
awards including the Lifetime Achievement Award, the Asianet Film Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2001, apart from several nominations and accolades.
Thilakan passed away on the 24th of September 2012 following a debilitating series of heart attacks and pneumonia that had him hospitalised for nearly two months. His legacy still lives on through the more than 200 movies that he was part of.