Thilakan who began his acting career in his intermediate days, had been associated with several drama troupes in his early days including the pro-Left Kerala Peoples' Arts Centre (KPAC). He entered the filmdom in 1979 with a minor role in KG George's Ulkadal.
Since then, he had acted in more than 200 films and won several national and state awards. He won the National Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1988.
He had won state awards for best actor thrice. The actor was awarded the Padmashree in 2009.
Perumthachan, Yavanika, Kireedam, Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu, Indian Rupee, Moonnampakkam and Kilukkam are some of the notable films he acted in. Ustad Hotel is his last released film.