From Mannar Mathai to Ponjikkara Keshavan: Innocent's 9 most memorable roles
The performances range from a hilarious bodybuilder to a despicable killer
Whenever an artist passes away, it is quite a daunting task to compile their best performances. More so, if it's someone of the stature of Innocent, who had an impeccable range as an actor. Though his biggest strength was unarguably his comedy timing, he had the right set of skills to handle serious character roles as well. Here, we take a look at some of his versatile performances that Malayalam movie lovers will always hold close to their hearts.
Every single time I watch Devaasuram, I'm in awe of the remarkable restraint that Innocent displayed while playing Warrier. The Man Friday of Mohanlal's Mangalassery Neelakandan, Warrier, is the epitome of loyalty. Even when all the other acquaintances go into hiding after Mundakkal Shekharan's attack on Neelan, Warrier stands by him and takes care of him like a father figure. Right from his looks to his demeanour, everything about his performance is pitch-perfect.
Ponjikkara Keshavan (Kalyanaraman)
Even if a vast majority isn't familiar with Ponjikkara, a quaint suburb near Bolgatty in Ernakulam, I'm sure many would remember Innocent's iconic character, Ponjikkara Keshavan. Sporting a twirled moustache and a weird hairdo, Keshavan claims to be a champion bodybuilder who can lift people on his thighs. Even though Kalyanaraman has an abundance of hilarity from the likes of Dileep and Salim Kumar, it's Innocent who walks away as the undisputed winner. Who can forget the 'music with body muscles' scene where he flexes his physique and the iconic scene where he loses his cool when someone asks for extra rice. And how about the scene where he senses the smell of alcohol during sleep and invites himself to the party with a 'waste glass'?
Mannar Mathai (Ramji Rao Speaking)
Just like Ponjikkara, Mannar is another place that became famous thanks to Innocent. In the 1989 film Ramji Rao Speaking, the actor plays the owner of a run-down drama troupe. It is often said that comedy works best when there is an element of pain in it. This Siddique-Lal directorial follows the poverty-stricken lives of Mannar Mathai, Gopalakrishnan (Mukesh) and Balakrishnan (Sai Kumar). The film's comedy is woven around the trio's unemployment, hunger and desperation. Some of Innocent's lines like, "vivaram ilathavan aanelum sathyame parayu" and "mundu.. nee mundu" are popular even today.
Priyadarshan is a filmmaker who got the best out of Innocent every time they worked together. His Kilukkam had one of the most hilarious portrayals of a master-servant relationship, with Thilakan playing the master, Justice Pillai, and Innocent, his servant, Kittunni. The exchanges between them and how Pillai ill-treats a hapless Kittunni (a clear case of exploitation) make way for several fun moments. Innocent's terrific dialogue modulation and expressions as he is tricked into believing that he has won a lottery is easily among the most popular Malayalam movie scenes.
Godfather is another Siddique-Lal film where Innocent delivered a compelling performance. Swaminathan is the second among the four brothers who take a vow of celibacy. A staunch Hanuman devotee, Swaminathan can't even stand the sight of women. But it is not soon before the mask comes off, exposing his other life as a devoted husband and father. Innocent's utter shock when he realises that he has been caught is certain to leave one in splits no matter how many times you watch the scene. He did a fabulous job in playing Swaminathan, a character caught between loyalty to his father and love for his wife and daughter.
Fazil's all-time classic psychological thriller opens with Innocent's character Unnithan taking us through a tour of the mysterious mansion, Madampalli—the centre of all the action that's about to follow. Before the entry of the leads, it's Innocent's hilarious performance as the terrified Unnithan that gets the audience interested in the spooky bungalow and the mystery surrounding it. His horrified expressions once he finds himself alone in the huge house, and the way he yells 'Raghavoo' is one of the most memorable Innocent-moments ever.
Shankarankutty Menon (Mazhavilkavadi)
Innocent is a regular in Sathyan Anthikad's films, and it is the director's 1989 film Mazhavilkavadi that earned the former his lone Kerala State Award for acting. His character Kalarickel Kizhamkamthudiyil Shankarankutty Menon is a scheming, authoritative father who has a compulsive obsession to assault those who don't obey him. Innocent's combination scenes with the late Paravoor Bharathan in this film is still remembered by many.
Vasu Menon (Pranchiyettan and the Saint)
In Ranjith's Pranchiyettan and the Saint, Mammootty plays a successful businessman who is unhappy with his 'image' among the locals. He is willing to spend a fortune for the sake of a better name and tries all possible means for the same. If there's someone who is more determined to get rid of Pranchi's existing image than Pranchi himself, it is Vasu Menon. The character was safe in Innocent's hands, as he shared a great rapport with Mammootty in the film. It is arguably his best role in the last decade.
In his four-decade-long career, Innocent often proved that there's so much more to him than just being a comic relief or strong supporting actor. He successfully played the villains in films like Adhwaytham, Pingami, and Marykkundoru Kunjaadu. But his most ruthless negative role came in Keli, in which he played Lazar, a corrupt businessman and politician. The way we are led to believe Lazar is a funny and supportive character before the rug is pulled from under our feet to reveal his nefarious ways works even better, thanks to Innocent's effortless performance.