What’s in a name?

The Hindu - - CINEMA - :: Mo­han V Ra­man

The re­cent con­tro­versy that erupted af­ter a po­lit­i­cal leader called an ac­tor by his given name may lead peo­ple to as­sume that ac­tors change their orig­i­nal name to hide their an­tecedents. That is far from the truth though.

The most pop­u­lar Tamil hero­ine of the 1930s was TP Ra­jalak­shmi. Other stars of that era were SD Sub­bu­lak­shmi, KT Ruk­mani, PS Siv­abagyam, KB Sun­daram­bal and MS Sub­bu­lak­shmi. They had sim­ple names and just added their ini­tials. This trend slowly changed and sin­gle names sans ini­tials came to be­come pop­u­lar — like Savithri, Pad­mini and De­vika. Some stars added a pre­fix (like ‘Sow­car’ Janaki).

In Hindi films, the sit­u­a­tion was slightly dif­fer­ent — post Par­ti­tion, ac­tors chose ‘na­tion­ally-ac­cepted’ names. Thus, Muham­mad Yusuf Khan be­came Dilip Ku­mar, Mah­jabeen Bano — Meena Ku­mari, Fa­tima Rashid — Nar­gis and Mum­taz Je­han Dehlavi — Mad­hubala.

They were not alone. Dharam Dev­dutt Pishori­mal Anand short­ened his name to Dev Anand. Kulb­hushan Pan­dit is not a name I would give to a man whose voice mes­merised mil­lions — Raaj Ku­mar. Ku­mud­lal Gan­guly be­came the ac­tor whose ca­reer spanned over half a cen­tury and was the el­der brother of Ab­has Ku­mar Gan­guly, Hindi cin­ema’s pro­lific play­back singer — we know them bet­ter as Ashok Ku­mar and Kishore Ku­mar. Kishore breathed life into the ca­reer of Hindi film’s first su­per­star — Jatin Khanna, bet­ter known as Ra­jesh Khanna. Some oth­ers had to go through a to­tal change to make their name more fash­ion­able; Vas­anth Ku­mar Shivshankar Padukone be­came Guru Dutt.

Closer home, vet­eran direc­tor K Balachan­der chris­tened Shivaji Rao Gaek­wad as Ra­jinikanth, a name that was given to a char­ac­ter in his film Ma­jor Chan­drakanth. Balachan­der also gave Ab­hi­lasha her screen name, Saritha. He also changed Prakash Rai to Prakash Raj, be­sides re­nam­ing Manohar Vel­mu­ru­gan Thangasamy as ‘Charle’ af­ter the great co­me­dian, Chap­lin.

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Direc­tor Bharathi­raja was sen­ti­men­tal about giv­ing his hero­ines names be­gin­ning with R

Direc­tor Bharathi­raja had a sen­ti­ment of giv­ing his hero­ines names be­gin­ning with R. Thus, Asha Kelunni Nair be­came Re­vathi. Sri Valli be­came Ran­jitha and Josephine be­came Rekha. He also named Udaya Chan­drika as Radha. There was also a rush for names start­ing with Jaya and we soon had Lalita Rani be­com­ing Jaya Prada, Su­jatha be­com­ing Jaya­sudha and Ro­hini be­com­ing Jay­a­chi­tra.

Sripriya was orig­i­nally Alamelu. “I could not give dates for the film Priya. If I had, I would have had the plea­sure of work­ing in films with both my given name and my screen name. How­ever, Ra­jini got that op­por­tu­nity — hav­ing acted in both An­bulla Ra­jinikanth and Si­vaji,” she says.

To­day, the au­di­ence and film­mak­ers ac­cept ev­ery­one and we have Ta­man­naah Bha­tia, Ka­jal Ag­gar­wal, Rakul Preet Singh, Lak­shmi Menon and Samantha... all of whom make no at­tempt to hide their back­ground.

(The writer is an ac­tor and film his­to­rian)

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