Mar 28, 2023By: Srishti Magan
On March 26, actor, producer and politician Innocent Vareed Thekkethala (Innocent), passed away due to multi-organ failure. Widely regarded as one of Malayalam cinema’s greatest comedians, the 75-year-old star’s innocent smile and brilliant expressions lit up every frame.
In a career spanning over five decades, Innocent mostly appeared as comic relief - but he also aced negative roles, becoming a bonafide character artist. He bagged several awards for acting, including two Kerala State Film Awards and a Kerala State Film Critics Award.
Innocent starred in over 700 films in his career, and had several blockbusters under his belt, including the psychological thriller Manichitrathazhu (remade as Bhool Bhulaiyaa in Hindi), Kaduva, Ramji Rao Speaking, Vesham, Kilukkam, Godfather, Patham Nilayile Theevandi, and many others.
The fifth of eight children, Innocent dropped out of school in the eighth grade because he wasn’t fond of studying - his love was for acting and he could always make people laugh. To eke out a living, he put on shows to entertain the residents of his hometown and his audience paid him in cash and food.
After dropping out of school, Innocent joined his cousins and brothers in running a match factory in the early 1970s but the factory shut down due to debt. Later, he did various jobs – including running a leather business, renting cycles, stationery owner, wholesale sandal distributor, and was even a volleyball coach.
Though he dabbled in business and even started a film production company Satru Combines (producing six movies), Innocent’s heart always lay in acting. While he made his acting debut in 1972, it was in the 1980s, when the wave of comedy gripped Malayalam cinema, that Innocent’s talents were finally recognised.
Slowly his popularity soared and Innocent became a favourite of the audience and filmmakers alike. A Malayalam movie was considered incomplete without Innocent, and he even starred in films in other languages, namely Tamil, Hindi, Kannada and English.
The actor’s first foray into politics came in 1979 when he was elected to the Irinjalakuda municipal body under the CPI(M) banner. Later, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the comedian defeated veteran Congress lawmaker PC Chacko in his home constituency Chalakudy in Thrissur district.
Two years before the Lok Sabha elections, in 2012, Innocent and his wife were diagnosed with throat cancer. Innocent overcame the disease and even published a memoir Cancer Wardile Chiri (Laughter in the Cancer Ward) on his experience. He went on to write seven books, and his book Irinjalakudaku Chuttum won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for Humour in 2020.
Innocent is survived by his wife, Alice, sons, Sonnet and Innocent Jr., and daughter, Anna. After the news of his demise hit social media, condolences poured in from all quarters, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and industry bigwigs like Mammootty, Dulquer Salman, etc.