On 1 August, two years ago, one of the finest actors Malayalam cinema has seen took ill on the sets of a film and was rushed to hospital. Nearly two months later, he died on 24 September, having suffered two heart attacks and pneumonia in the meantime. He was Surendranatha Thilakan, or simply Thilakan, as most of us know him. Having spent some time with him is one of the highlights in the life of my filmmaking alter ego.

“If you want to change it, do it from the outside. Don’t join the industry and lose yourself,” he told me once on the telephone, during one of the long conversations we had at the peak of the controversy surrounding his ban from the Malayalam film industry. He was bitter and angry, and was very keen to establish or support any alternative to the status quo. When I told him that I make movies by pure collaboration (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3630567), and outside “the industry”, he was full of encouragement. “There are a lot of talented youngsters out there”, he told me. “But they will never come up in a industry that only caters to the whims and fancies of a few vested interests. Those guys at the helm of affairs treat the whole industry as their personal playground and have created a system that nurtures only psychophants, not real talent.”

I told him about my first feature film Onan (Tamil/English, 2009) and how it was “India’s First Full-length Guerilla Feature Film” ~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onan_(film). I told him how I had an International cast (take a bow David William Williams, and Dawn Akemi) and crew, and how we developed the script completely online and had some 15 people from 7 different countries participating in some capacity or the other in the making of the film. He was impressed about how our shooting crew was only 9 people in a Tempo Traveller, running-and-gunning through the crowded streets of Triplicane in Chennai.

“You know, I was shooting for a film in Canada,” he told me. “There were less than 10 people on the set when we shot, including the actors. Very efficient. There was the director, the cinematographer, an assistant director and someone in charge of the lights. It was all about the movie, nothing else. There were no hangers-on, waiting to please anyone of us, each one had a very specific job to do and everything got done fast. People were happy to do things other than what they were assigned too. I finished the shoot in just two days! That’s what we are yet to learn back here… that it really doesn’t need that many people or crores of rupees to make a good film. And technology has made things much easier and cheaper! Concentrate on content. Show them!”

Yes Uncle, I will, soon.

These photos were taken during the screening of “Onan” at the Press Club in Thiruvananthapuram where Thilakan launched my second feature film Ra. Ka. Ma. (currently in ‘Development Hell’ due to various reasons) starring the one and only Ashok Rajagopalan.

Now for the real magic. Ashok and I first met Thilakan at his home (the previous day, if I remember correctly) to discuss the launch. As we sat talking we found some children’s magazines lying on a table. When he saw us looking at them with unusual interest, he told us how the children in the house loved them and that he was a subscriber. The magazine? TOOT, which both Ashok and I were closely associated with. Ashok and I were writers, illustrators and designers for it… and me the art director to boot! I still remember how he loosened up after we told him, a far cry from his usual gruff persona. Thilakan had met us before he met us :-)

#throwbackthursday #thilakan #onan #rakama

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