After hearing news of Innocent passing away, I logged on to Twitter. One of the tweets on my timeline was this iconic scene from the Malayalam movie, Kalyanaraman (2002). Comedian Salim Kumar is taking a bath in a big basin while in the background is Innocent. He has no dialogue, yet he is there, oversized, casually swinging away on a small swing that is clearly meant for children, and making his presence felt.
His presence was felt all these years in every household in Kerala and among the diaspora. Not a day goes by in my life without ever thinking of a movie in which Innocent has acted. The punch dialogues are in your head to use at the opportune moment, even during an official meeting.
Actor Par Excellence
As a film buff, where do I start remembering Innocent? For sure, it should be the sexton of a small church Rappai from Kathodu Kathoram (1985) – a movie I watched as a kid, and left me in pain only to never watch it again. The gossip monger Rappai feeds rumours into a jealous husband’s head to trigger fresh issues in the man’s already abusive marital relationship with the film’s leading lady, Saritha.
Kathodu Kathoram was directed by the master craftsman Bharathan and written by John Paul. They would team up again in Keli and Innocent would play a villain, Lazar, with a humorous touch. The cold-blooded Lazar is a womaniser on the inside, but to the world outside is a benevolent but crooked politician and businessman.
Wait, wasn’t Innocent a comedy actor? Why am I talking about his villainous roles? Because like many other great actors, he could just do it.
Malayalam cinema has seen great transformations by its character actors. Villains like Janardhanan and Cochin Haneefa went on to do many comedy roles later in their careers. Comedians like Salim Kumar and Suraj Venjarammood transformed into actors playing incredibly serious roles. Jagathy Sreekumar dabbled with anything thrown at him. Innocent mostly remained a comedian, apart from a few movies like Devasuram and Keli.
So then what’s the most memorable Innocent movie? Truth is, there isn’t one, but many.
Innocent’s Best Roles
Mannar Mathai from Ramjirao Speaking (1989) is the poor drama troupe owner who dreams of a better life for his Urvashi Theatres. When Ramjirao enters his life, the old drama costumes come to his aid in defending himself against the bandit. The simpleton who said – “Oru Thokku Kittiyittundu Ketto” (I have found a gun) – to the villains, may never be forgotten in Malayalam cinema’s annals.
Then there is Kittunniyettan from Kilukkam (1991). Kittunniyettan is the poor servant of a judge, who treats him shabbily. To get rid of him from the household, Revathi who plays a maid tricks him into believing that he had just won the lottery. The way his face changes in a short time period is a classic.
And finally there is Manichitrathazhu (1993), my favourite Malayalam movie. Every scene Innocent features in is a laugh riot: In one immortal scene, KPAC Lalitha tries to tie an amulet around his waist, and she can’t talk because she is not supposed to talk, while he thinks she wants to hug him.
KPAC Lalitha and Innocent made for a fine pair. When together on screen, Lalitha and Innocent were the epitome of comic timing. Malayalam films like Godfather, Gajakesariyogam, Apoorvam Chilar, and Kottayam Kunjachan, to name just a few, can be cited as examples of cinema magic where two actors combine to produce great acting and comic timing.
Passing Of An Age
Lalitha passed away last year. Now Innocent joins her. Before that Nedumudi Venu left us. This is that phase in time when a lot of the great actors who dominated the screen from the 1980s to the turn of the millennium are leaving.
Like one Twitter user said, growing old really sucks. New actors will come, but will they make me laugh like Innocent? Hopefully they will, but they have a great bar to match in my mind. And maybe I will be ruthless in judging them because I can say I lived in the times when Innocent did the best of his roles.
Go well, Innocent. You will not be missed, because you are all around me. Like Mohanlal’s character Mangalasseri Neelakandan says in Ravanaprabhu (2001) to Innocent’s Warrier - “Thanikku Maranamillado” (You are immortal).
Dhanush Gopinath is a movie buff, who at daytime is checking in code as the Co-founder and CTO at Geektrust.com, while reading away to glory at night. Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.