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`Television is a more powerful medium'


Thilakan rewinds to speak about his triumphs and travails in his career as an artiste.


For the last 50 years he has been breathing life into thousands of characters. And he is still hungry for more work. This absolute confidence in his talent, at times mistaken as arrogance, is what drives Thilakan.

A 100-hour documentary is being made on him, which will be telecast on television. It is being made to mark the Golden Jubilee of his career as an actor. There will also be stage shows in three cities in Kerala.

But for Thilakan, it is just another assignment. By his side lies an identity card, featuring the familiar face and his name - Surendranath Thilakan.

As he takes a break from the shooting of the documentary, memories come back to Thilakan.

"I first acted when I was six. My class teacher, Maria Kutty, sensed my talent as an artist when she saw me making name seals in wood."

The moment he graduated to higher standards of acting, after staging farces in school and watching musical theatre in Malayalam with his father, came when he watched Marlon Brando as Mark Antony and Spencer Tracy as Brutus in the film `Julius Caesar.'

That triggered the actor in Thilakan. And when he was expelled from college, "for serious misconduct," he plunged into the world of theatre. That was in 1955 and he never looked back. "I have always stuck to realistic acting. People gradually acknowledged my way of dialogue presentation as my style. Even when plays are staged before huge crowds, as during the festival at Oachira temple, the audience used to fall silent the moment I entered the stage."

For, they knew that Thilakan would stop acting if he heard a noise in the audience, be it a child crying or a whisper. The offender was requested to leave the theatre. No wonder, Thilakan is pained at the present state of Malayalam theatre. "There is no original talent now, be it in theatre or film. They are all copying from successful works. They even repeat the name of a successful character. That is why we have so many Sethuramans in Malayalam films."

Over these years, Thilakan earned the confidence of directors who let him work on his characters. "I once made a change in a character without the director knowing it. I gave a special look to my character in the film `Ritubhedam.' Prathap Pothan, the director, could sense it only after I asked him to watch my eyes in the rushes and never during the shooting. I had brought a cruel look in my eyes, a look I used only for this character. I got a national award for it."

However, even an artiste who takes so much of pains to improve his character could be easily sidelined in the industry, if a group of people want it. Thilakan never shies away from facts. "The public can stop mineral sand-mining, but they cannot insist that Thilakan should be there in the film.

"Considering the standard of Malayalam films that are being made now, I feel it is good that I am not acting in most of them. So long as Malayalam film is alive, there will roles where I cannot be substituted."

That is the voice of experience. "The writer of the film `Yatramozhi,' I believe it was Priyadarsan, told the director, after narrating the story, that there was a rowdy character who appears in just two scenes. He said only Thilakan could do it, because that character stood as a counter to Sivaji Ganesan and that the scene came at a crucial stage in the story. I was paid full remuneration for just those two scenes."

Now, Thilakan is seen more on the mini-screen.

"I feel TV is a more powerful medium, as most of the audience is well-educated. If I deliver a dialogue with a philosophical touch, it will be registered. And that could be why I got respect, which eluded me in my film career, through one TV serial."

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