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My Father, Thilakan

Dr Sonia Thilakan remembers her father Thilakan, the thespian, who was meted out an unfair deal in the Malayalam film arena where he stood like a colossus.

AMMA, the film actors’ body in Kerala, has been in a soup ever since news came out that a senior actor had allegedly masterminded the assault on a female colleague. Social media denizens, activists and the media had been at it, demanding justice for the actress who was attacked in the dead of the night in a running vehicle. The actor in the line of fire was first ousted from the association, and then re-inducted on the sly, much to the chagrin of the actress who was attacked and the members of the Women’s Collective in Cinema (WCC). Even as the controversy raged, people started running down memory lane in a bid to remind everyone out there as to how AMMA had meted out injustice to even colossal actors like Thilakan by forcing him to stay away from the actor’s body and cinema altogether.

The ‘Injustice to Thilakan’ issue was rekindled even further when the great actor’s daughter came up with an expose on how Mohanlal, superstar-actor and then General Secretary of AMMA, had treated a letter that Thilakan had sent to the association expressing his grievances. The Malayalam film buff, who is in the know of all about the late Thilakan and his final years in the industry, had another reason to worry about AMMA after the letter was made public by Dr Sonia Thilakan a few days ago.

As the row reaches its peak, Salini V S Nair caught up with Dr Sonia Thilakan for a freewheeling chat on Thilakan, the father, the thespian and the outspokenness he is famously known for.

Love, Personified

I was the girl child born to my parents after they had four sons. That naturally gave them more reason to pamper me as a child. My father always carried me around, even prompting my mother Sarojam to remark that “he hasn’t put her down even once after she was born”. Even after my younger sister Sophia was born, his love for me never diminished. If ever I ran into the room where my sister was perched on my father’s lap, she would immediately get down as if I had the first right to my father’s lap. Such was the love my father showered on me.

My Father, My Hero

I was always wary when the characters (mostly villain roles, then) my father used to play on screen were attacked or hurt by the actors who played the hero part.  Once I was so taken aback and consumed by fear when he was beaten up on screen. I couldn’t bear it, and I kept my eyes closed with my palm. And, when the commotion ended, I opened my eyes thinking the scene was over. But what played in front of my eyes was my father being brutally stabbed. I was shocked. I was so filled with anger that I yelled out that I wanted to bash up the man who stabbed my father. I still remember the way he held me close and kept on laughing aloud.  There have been many such instances. I have even wanted to walk out of movies that had my father’s characters being abused or insulted. However, he always explained to me that it was a make believe world and that he was just playing the role on screen.

Soft-hearted Disciplinarian

Though my father would shower love and kindness on me and my siblings, he was equally strict too. I remember an instance when he had beaten me up with a tiny coconut palm leaf rib when I was in kindergarten school. He beat me and left the place only to return soon and pick me up and hold me close, overcome by guilt. I still remember how he couldn’t get over this guilt for days together.

It was my father who backed me when I wanted to be a dentist. Once I finished my studies, he supported me by inaugurating my ‘Smile World’ Dental Clinic in Vattiyoorkkavu in Thiruvananthapuram. I also had him as my patient once at the dental clinic when he wanted to remove two of his teeth. It was so funny seeing him scared as he sat like a child in front of his dentist-daughter.

When the Stage Beckoned

My father’s parents wanted him to be a doctor, in fact. That prompted him to read Science in college. However, destiny had other plans for him. As the course was still on, he was out of college owing to a few issues in the campus.  However, his father wasn’t ready to go and plead with the authorities for a readmission. My father then opted for the Hindi Vidwan course soon after that, but his father refused to offer even a penny as exam fees. My father was so dejected that he couldn’t write the exams and that was when he came across a drama rehearsal camp. He left his text books aside and decided that the stage was the place to be in. From then on, there was no looking back.  From one stage to another, he kept on travelling. Stage and the silver screen welcomed him with open arms, and as you know, he excelled big time.

A Family Affair

The stage and cinema soon turned out to be a family affair, as my brothers too were bitten by the acting bug. Even as my brothers Shammy and Shoby were fully involved in acting as career, we the girl children to found ourselves being cast in a few roles. My father, mother, brothers and sister had acted in a few plays by then.  I remember Sophia waking up startled by the bell ringing on stage and mouthing dialogues at a young age! She had also played a part in one of the dance sequences in the much-acclaimed K G George flick, “Panchavadippalam”.

I was once roped in to play the great actor Kamal Haasan’s younger sister in the much acclaimed “Chanakyan”. Though my father persuaded me saying that if you want to you may go for it, the confused teenager in me chose to opt out of it.

Wheels and Pastel

I found a liking for driving even at a young age. The driving craze obviously took after my father’s love for cars. He was indeed my guru in driving. My love for driving has even brought to me the top prize in a driving event organised by Hyundai, Popular Automobiles and Metro Manorama in 2010. I have also found a liking for mural art, of late.

Tough Times

When the film fraternity whom he had held so close to his heart had banned him from movies, my father saw himself being pushed to bad times. But then, affection and love came in from other quarters. I remember the then Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan calling up my father and enquiring what he should do for him. People like Kanam Rajendran and others used to visit him frequently when he was in trouble. There was a time when even celebrities would hesitate to take his name. But when Opposition leader Rajesh Chennithala remarked in an interview that Thilakan is his favourite actor, it came as a relief and source of joy. I then knew my father wasn’t alone.

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