Sunday, August 16, 2009
‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’
COLUMN: TURNING POINTS IN LIFE
Playing Mark Antony in the play ‘Julius Caeser’ was the life-changer for actor Thilakan
By Shevlin Sebastian
When Thilakan was in Class two in a school at Mundakayam he had a teacher by the name of Maria Kutty. “She had a face like the Virgin Mary,” he says. “She was beautiful and fair. She would go down on her knees and embrace us.”
One day Maria Kutty told Thilakan he was selected to act in a play, which she had written. “I told her I knew nothing about acting but she said she would teach me,” says Thilakan.
Following rehearsals, Thilakan made his stage debut during the annual school day festivities. “I had not seen any play or film before this,” he says. When he finished acting all the students gathered around him. “Some of them stared at me with bulging eyes,” he says. “I have never forgotten the look of admiration in their eyes.”
Suddenly, someone hugged Thilakan from behind and smothered him with kisses all over his face and neck. “When I turned back I saw that it was Maria Kutty,” he says. “Tears were flowing down her face.”
Thereafter Thilakan did not get another opportunity in primary school to express his talent. Instead, he expended his energy by having fights with other students. So it was not surprising that in Class eight he was expelled for disciplinary problems.
His father, P.S. Kesavan, a writer in the Mundakayam Travancore Rubber and Tea company sent him to his grandfather, Shankaran, who stayed at Kottayam.
Shankaran managed to get Thilakan admitted to the M.D. Seminary school. One of Thilakan’s classmates was future avant-garde film director John Abraham.
When Thilakan was in Class 10, each class had to stage a drama for the Youth Festival. During the rehearsal when Thilakan mispronounced a word, the secretary of the Arts Club said, “Get out, you can’t act.” John Abraham also walked out in protest and they went to the headmaster K.C. John to get permission to stage a play. Initially he said no.
Thilakan said, “The secretary said we cannot act and I want to prove that we can. We would like to stage a play outside the competition.”
Eventually the Principal relented. In a play by Thoppil Bhasi, Thilakan played an elderly man, who catches John Abraham whose pastime is to pretend to look for a marriage alliance but is more interested in having a good feast.
“Everybody liked my acting,” he says. “The headmaster placed his hand on my head and said, ‘Very good performance. Now you just need to improve your behaviour.’”
Later, Thilakan joined S.N. College in Kollam in 1955. For a cultural event in the college, Tilakan played the role of a doctor in the play, ‘Two plus two is five’, by T.N. Gopinathan.
After the performance was over, Thilakan was about to leave when he noticed a man sitting all alone in the hall. Curious, he came close and saw that it was Professor Shivaprasad, the president of the Arts Club. The man hugged Thilakan and said, “You have done well. You have to join the Arts Club. This year we have to do something great.”
Thereafter, Thilakan was selected to play Mark Antony in the play, ‘Julius Caeser’.
When Thilakan expressed reluctance, Shivaprasad said, “You should do the tough roles. That is the only way you will learn. It is easy to eat a banana, but to have sugarcane juice, you need to squeeze it out of the cane.”
By coincidence, the film, ‘Julius Caeser’ starring Marlon Brando as Mark Antony was being shown at Kollam. The Arts Club paid the money so that Thilakan could see every show for three days.
“Marlon Brando had a magnificent body and handsome looks,” he says. “Added to that, there was his powerful delivery and movements. How could I match that?”
Fortunately, Thilakan was blessed with a photographic memory and registered every movement of Brando’s. Later, during rehearsals at the college, there was a small crowd of students in the audience. They had known that Thilakan had seen nine shows in a row and was keen to see his performance. A few were getting ready to boo him.
Thilakan stepped forward and shouted:
‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears,
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones.’
The audience fell silent. Soon, they were held spellbound by Thilakan’s acting. When he finished the students clapped loudly. Some went and embraced the actor.
Thilakan looked at Shivaprasad, but there was no expression on his face. Finally, the professor said, “You have just mimicked Marlon Brando. The whole of Kollam has seen his acting. Don’t imitate anybody. You are Thilakan and should show an original version of Mark Antony.”
For Thilakan it was a life-changing moment. And for the first time in the 90-minute conversation with me, in a recording studio at Kochi, Thilakan became silent and pressed strands of tobacco into the bowl of a black pipe.
After several moments he said, “I have acted in numerous plays and films. Can anyone say I have imitated anybody? Every character has come from within. I became a good actor only because of this great bit of advice.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi)