What’s in a name?
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.
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)