“Povandorku eppayaalum poye pattu”
When Thilakan Sir’s deep voice said these words I’d written, I never thought it would be so soon. The gentle affectionate yet philosophical Uppuppa which could only be him. When Anwar Rasheed told me that Thilakan Sir would be Karimka in Ustad Hotel, I started to work further on the character. It was a real pleasure because he was an actor who explored nuances and hints. The last time I spoke to him was to wish him on the 50th day of Ustad Hotel. When I congratulated him, his words were “I should thank you for writing such a character”. Once again he surprised me. But that is what he has always been – full of surprises right from the first time I met him.
The first time was for Manjadikuru – I wanted the film to have an elderly couple who everyone would relate to as grandparents – who better than Thilakan & Kaviyoor Ponamma? But I was a bit nervous about requesting Thilakan Sir to take up this role. Why? Because the whole film was about what happens when the grandfather dies. Yes, he had to play a dead person who is only seen as a spirit. Not a word of dialogue. 4-5 scenes. How does a newcomer offer such a role to a thespian like Thilakan and expect him to do it?
Nevertheless I was as optimistic as only first time filmmakers can be. When I arrived where he was staying, I was led to his room. My predicament only worsened when I saw him found him lying in bed propped up on his elbows. He apologized for not being able to sit up explaining that his deteriorating physical condition. Gathering courage I explained about the film I wanted to make and how much it would mean to us if he was part of our film. He heard the story and listened to his role carefully. What continued was an exchange of questions and answers about cinema and the craft of acting. Half an hour later, he told me that he would do the film. I was elated but also worried. I managed to ask him how his physical condition would permit him to shoot. He brushed it off saying “Oh don’t worry, its not the first time… when it gets this bad, I get an intensive Ayurvedic treatment done and that usually fixes me for some time.” Reassured, I gifted him a few seeds of Manjadikuru. Much later a common friend told me that he called it the most unique ‘advance’ he had got.
He arrived on the sets of Manjadikuru and was so cooperative and eager to do his best even in the simplest shots. Everyone who had heard of the terror tales about him was surprised. We were facing facing incessant rains so in the few days he was with us, we missed out on an important sequence. I knew it would be unfair to ask him to stay another day as he had other commitments. So I kept quiet. When he was leaving I took a break from work to say a quick goodbye. He leaned out of his car window and said “let me know when you schedule the river”. I was surprised that he remembered the river scene in the script that was yet to be shot. Some days later I called him to inform the scheduled date for the river scene. He said “I’ll be there.”
Thilakan Sir drove himself from Thiruvananthapuram to Ottapalam for that single shot.
He may be no more but there are so many characters he has immortalized. He was an actor who knew about lenses, lights, technical matters with tremendous understanding of psychology and fluidity of demeanour. He knew his craft too well.
His characters will continue to move us and inspire us as we go through time. Yesterday was the 100th day of Ustad Hotel. I will only repeat here what I said to him in that last conversation, “to have you as Karimka is an honour to us.”