Veteran actor Innocent began his career in the film industry in 1972 donning a minor role as a press reporter in the film, ‘Nrithasala’ and became a household name in Kerala over time. He was known for his comic timing and ability to deliver witty one-liners, which endeared him to audiences across generations. His career spanned over five decades, during which he appeared in over 500 films.
Some of Innocent’s most memorable film scenes include his role as the bumbling but lovable sidekick in the 1989 hit ‘Ramji Rao Speaking’, which was later developed into a titular role in its sequel, ‘Mannar Mathai Speaking’. His performance as a theatre company owner was amazing and considered as one of the best shows by a comedian.
His portrayal of an ‘innocent’ domestic help, Kittunni in Priyadarsan’s ‘Kilukkam’, alongside Mohanlal, Revati, Jagathi Sreekumar and Thilakan, was widely praised and helped solidify his place in the hearts of Malayalam cinema fans. Other notable films in which he appeared include ‘Godfather,’ ‘Mazhavil Kavadi,’ and ‘Malayogam’, etc. He had donned negative roles and character roles as well, in films like Bharathan’s 1991 romantic drama ‘Keli’, Sathyan Anthikkad’s 1994 ‘Pingami’.
He was adjudged the second-best actor in 1989 for his role in ‘Mazhavil Kavadi’. His infectious laughter and witty banter filled with pithy one liners, made him a beloved figure in Malayali households across the globe.
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Although Innocent began his journey in the early 1970s, it wasn’t until 1981 that his acting career really took off. He took on the role of a producer in the early eighties, working with David Kachappilli to make the 1981 ‘Vida Parayum Munpe’ directed by Mohan. When the film garnered a plethora of favourable reviews, Innocent the actor also attracted a lot of attention. He continued the run with Bharathan’s 1982 ‘Ormakkayi’ and K G George’s 1983 ‘Lekhayude Maranam: Oru Flashback’ before becoming an inevitable presence as an actor in Malayalam cinema after the 1990s.
A reluctant politician
However, Innocent’s impact was not limited to the entertainment industry. Even though he was a reluctant politician, he had tried his luck in the local body elections way back in 1979-80, when he unsuccessfully contested to the Irinjalakkuda municipality. In 2014, he was made the Lok Sabha candidate as an independent backed by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) from Chalakkudy constituency, which he wrested from the Congress against all odds.
Later, in 2019, he contested from the same constituency, this time as an official candidate of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), but did not repeat the victory.
Throughout his political career, Innocent stood with the communists, advocating the rights of the working class and the marginalised. He was an active participant in debates and discussions on issues such as labour rights, agricultural policies, and rights of the cancer patients. “My father was a communist and I grew up feeling the heat of being active in politics,” he often said.
Despite being a celebrity, Innocent remained grounded and committed to his principles, often delivering witty speeches against corruption and nepotism in politics.
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A prolific writer, his battle with cancer
Sadly, Innocent’s life was also marked by a battle with cancer. In 2012, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He underwent treatment and was declared cancer-free in 2014, but the disease relapsed in 2018 for which he was under treatment.
A prolific writer as well, Innocent penned five books: ‘Njan Innocent’, ‘Cancer Wardile Chiri’, ‘Irinjalakudakku Chuttum’ (memoirs), ‘Mazha Kannadi’ (collection of short stories), and ‘Chirrikku Pinnil’ (autobiography). His memoir, ‘Cancer Wardile Chiri’ (Laughter in the Cancer Ward), describes his experiences as he received treatment for throat cancer. In 2020, his ‘Irinjalakudakku Chuttum’ won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for Humour
Innocent’s writing reflected his deep sense of empathy and compassion for others, and his ability to connect with people from all walks of life.
All through his illness, Innocent remained positive and determined, and continued to work and serve his constituents. He was open about his experiences with cancer, and used his platform to raise awareness about the disease and the importance of early detection and treatment.
A key member of AMMA
Innocent was also an important figure in the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA). He served as president for more than 15 years, which is not surprising. He was elected president of AMMA in 2000, serving for six consecutive terms. Each term was for three years.
He was frequently chosen to the general body by a unanimous vote. Innocent, the longest-serving president of AMMA, is renowned for his interventions in the organisation and his management of internal issues. He courted controversy as well when he supported Malayalam actor Dileep, after the infamous sexual assault case of an actress. His judgemental remarks against a few woman actors also did not go down well with the liberal and feminist activists in the state.
Innocent’s passing has left a deep void in the hearts of his fans, colleagues, and constituents. His contributions to Malayalam cinema and politics will forever be remembered, and his legacy will continue to inspire generations to come.
Innocent is survived by his wife, Alice, and son Sonnet.