Winner of the Kerala State Film Award for Best Actor for Bandhanam (1978), Sukumaran was a popular actor and producer of Malayalam films, whose journey in the film industry began in the 1970s. Along with actors Soman and Jayan, he was regarded as part of the superstar trio of Malayalam films during the late 1970s and early 1980s. His portrayal of an ‘angry young man’ in many films swelled his fan base considerably during the 70s. He featured in several films over the years, such as Ulsavam (1975), Santha Oru Devatha (1977), Bhrashtu (1978), Gaandhavaram (1978), Ankakkuri (1979), Kochu Kochu Thettukal (1980), Kalika (1980), Pourusham (1983), Mainakam (1984), New Year (1989), Marupuram (1990), Janam (1993), and Vamsam (1997). Moving to character roles and negative roles during the 1980s and 1990s, he also turned producer with Irakal (1985) and Padayani (1986).
He was born Edappal Ponnamkuzhi Veettil Sukumaran Nair in Edappal, Ponnani taluk, Malabar District, Madras Presidency, in what is present-day Malappuram District, Kerala, on 18 March, 1945. The eldest son of Parameshwaran Nair and Subhadra P Nair, he had two younger brothers and a sister. Completing his primary education at St Thomas Higher Secondary School, Pala, he also studied in CMS Boys School, Thrissur. On earning his Master's degree in English literature from University College, Trivandrum with gold medal, he started as a college lecturer for three years at Government College, Kasaragod and Scott Christian College, Nagercoil, Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu.
It was during his lecturing stint at Scott Christian College that he received an offer to act in the Malayalam film Nirmalyam (1973). This M T Vasudevan Nair directorial saw him play the role of Appu, a defiant youngster. The film was extremely well received, and also bagged the National Film Award for Best Feature Film and Kerala State Film Award for Best Film in 1974. It is considered one of the classics in Malayalam cinema. Sukumaran made his mark as a newcomer with talent; however, quality film offers eluded him. He was, in fact, contemplating returning to the teaching profession, when he was offered Shankupushpam (1977). There was no looking back for Sukumaran thereafter, as he went on to carve a secure niche for himself in cinema.
He went on to act in key films such as Avalude Ravukal (1978), Angadi (1980), Bandhanam (1978), Etho Oru Swapnam (1978), Manasa Vacha Karmana (1979), Ahimsha (1981), Spodanam (1981), Angakkuri (1979), Kolilakkam (1981), Thacholi Thankappan (1983), Sandarbam(1984), Witness (1988), and Kottayam Kunjachanan (1990). Thakilu Kottampuram (1981), directed by Balukiriyath, was one of his best films in the 80s. Another significant role he essayed was that of a tough police officer in Oru CBI Diary Kurippu (1981) and its sequel Jagratha (1989). This K Madhu directorial became popular for its characterisation. It acquired cult status in its third instalment Sethurama Iyer CBI (2004), which had Sai Kumar essaying the son of the police officer, replicating the mannerisms and voice tone of Sukumaran.
In 1978, Sukumaran won the Kerala State Film Award for Best Actor for his performance in Bandhanam. Directed by M T Vasudevan Nair, the film depicted a young man’s return from city living to the village. Poignant in tone, the hero leads a wayward life and avoids family ties but eventually gets drawn by his stepsister into the bondage of relationships and family.
Sukumaran also set up his own production company called Indraraj Creations. His production Irakal, was a psychological thriller written and directed by K G George. It won two Kerala State Film Awards—Second Best Film and Best Story, and was also selected for the Indian Panorama in the International Film Festival of India (IFFI). His next production, Padayani was a thriller written and directed by T S Mohan, starring Mammootty, Mohanlal, Shobhana and Devan. It told the tale of long-lost friends, who reunite to take revenge against the evildoer in their lives. Sukumaran’s last film was Shibiram, directed by T S Suresh Babu, which released in 1997.
He was married to actress Mallika Sukumaran on 17 October, 1978. They had two sons, Indrajith Sukumaran and Prithviraj Sukumaran, who also debuted as actors. Sukumaran’s production Padayani also marked the debut of Indrajith Sukumaran, who played the younger version of Ramesh (Mohanlal).
Sukumaran died suddenly due to a massive heart attack on 16 June, 1997. He was 52.