Monday, May 20, 2024

Innocent was one of a kind in Malayalam cinema

File picture of actor Innocent interacting with children in Thiruvananthapuram

File picture of actor Innocent interacting with children in Thiruvananthapuram
| Photo Credit: S. Gopakumar

It is difficult to imagine Malayalam cinema without Innocent. It is hard to believe that we will no longer see that smile, disarming yet mischievous; that we will no longer be able to hear those marvellously funny anecdotes from him, in that charming Thrissur slang of his.

He was one of Malayalam cinema’s finest actors of all time.

Even while being in the company of stalwarts of Malayalam cinema, he commanded attention. Remember those unforgettable scenes with Thilakan in Kilukkam. Or his scenes with Mohanlal in Devasuram.

Every role was safe in his hands. Yet, comedy was his forte. Only Jagathy Sreekumar has probably been part of as much classic comedy as Innocent. Yes, we have had great comic actors in the past, and none greater than Adoor Bhasi. But Bhasi didn’t get to do much quality comedy like the actors of the 1980s and 90s. For, in Bhasi’s time, there were not many scriptwriters like Sreenivasan, Raghunath Paleri or Siddique-Lal: they are writers for whom comedy is not slapstick. It is no surprise that some of Innocent’s best works came in their films.

Actors like Thilakan, Innocent, Jagathy, Mukesh, Sreenivasan, Shankaradi, Oduvil Unnikrishnan, Jagadeesh, Mamukkoya, KPAC Lalitha, Meena (the late actress), Kalpana and Philomina have been lucky in that sense. Though they may not have been the superstars, they got to enact well-written roles in what was the golden period of Malayalam cinema. Sadly, most of these actors have disappeared from our screens. Now we have lost Innocent, too. It is a consolation though that, because of YouTube and OTT platforms, we could continue to enjoy all those vintage scenes of Innocent. He is one actor whom movie lovers will never get tired of watching.

When you look back at Innocent’s filmography, memories of his roles will bring a smile on your face. You will be amazed to recall how many memorable roles he got to play in his career that began in the early 1970s, but took off in the late 1980s.

It was the surprise hit of 1989, Ramji Rao Speaking , that cemented Innocent’s place as one of Malayalam’s top comedians. He played the role of the proprietor of a struggling theatre company. The debut film of Siddique-Lal allowed him enough screen space to showcase his talent.

A few other films also saw him play central characters, like Gajakesariyogam, Dr. Pasupathi, Kabooliwala, and later Patham Nilayile Theevandi, which showed how good he could be in dramatic roles as well. If more such roles had come his way, his repertoire as a performer would have been wider. Not that he needed to do anything besides comedy to ensure immortality. Even a few scenes of him would have been enough for that. Like the couple of scenes in Kilukkam: he telling his employer (Thilakan) that he was resigning his job as the servant; and Revathi deceiving him telling that he had won the lottery. There is also that unforgettable scene in the underrated Kamal film Azhakiya Ravanan: Innocent, who plays a local community leader, failing to get one dialogue right while shooting for a film. We cannot imagine any other actor doing such scenes or roles. That is why it is difficult to imagine Malayalam cinema without one of its most gifted actors.

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