Vandhaarai vaazhavaikkum Tamil cinema?

I’ve always wondered why actors in Tamil cinema see the need to change names? Everyone from Rajinikath to Ganja Karuppu use pseudonyms, which later becomes their real names. Why would people do that?

When I spent some time looking deeper into this, I realised there are various reasons for which people change names. The most interesting of them all for me, is the name change that tends to hide religion. Many actors change names to a neutral one from their real name that could specifically point to their religion.

Image courtesy: Sulekha.com

Recently, while gaping at Arya, I realised he was born as Jamshad Cethirakath. Shaam (the erstwhile actor who was supposed to be the ‘dancing competition’ for Madhavan) also is a Muslim born as Shamsuddin Ibrahim. Khushboo was born as Nakhat Khan. In fact, even Joseph Vijay chose to use his ‘middle name’ Vijay as against calling himself Joseph on screen. John Kennedy Vinod Raj (who we all know as Chiyaan Vikram) shed his whole name.

My argument here is not that everybody adopts a Hindu name. Even Saravanan Sivakumar had to become Surya. So, the point to note here is not that one religion is more acceptable than another. The point is the acceptance of anything symbolic of religion at large. I am not getting into details of why each of them chose to change their name because each could have their own personal reason. But I am only going one step ahead to see if there is a trend, which could mean anything about the inclusiveness of Tamil cinema.

Image courtesy: galatta.com

While nurturing that stream of thought, I also notice that there are people like Abbas, Mumtaz, Livingston, Nasser and Rahman who have survived in Tamil cinema. Even recently, people like Ajmer keep coming and do well for themselves. But in Tamilnadu, where names are used as a means of self-expression (heard of the Stalins and the Mysskins?), it becomes very important that people might need to change names to fit in or even survive.

If that is the case, it is definitely a shame! If you know any better and have experiences to share, please use the comments section. I’d love to hear from you!

P.S: Wikipedia links used because that is the one common place I could find information about everyone. If you notice an error, or if you know of another place where I can access legitimate information, please let me know.

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6 thoughts on “Vandhaarai vaazhavaikkum Tamil cinema?

  1. First of all I don’t see any relation with title and content? Secondly, pseudonyms or having simpler and catchier names started in literature when great writers and poets published their creations with some pen names. So its been there in history and it still continues in many fields.

    Good that you thought deeper about this as I always wonder why S. Rangarajan had penned with his wife’s name (Sujatha) ??

    P.S. My friend working in a BPO, Somasundaram manikavinayagam answers his client calls as “SAM”

  2. The heading is a question that asks if people need to change their names to fit in. Does Tamil cinema not accept people with their original names? No judgement. Just throwing open an argument! You are welcome to argue.

    The question here is not using the pseudonym, Sujai. If you notice, Shamsuddin Ibrahim did not become Riyaz. He became Shaam which was understood as Shyam for a long time. If you notice all people who’ve changed names, they’ve done so in a way to hide apparent religious references. I am only wondering if this is a trend and is thought of as necessary to enter Tamil cinema.

    Also, see Madhavan Ranganathan’s name was written as Madhavan R in Alaipayuthey! Is this possible for everyone if they wish to? I don’t know. So, I am just asking!

    As far as Sam’s story goes, a nick name is alright to have. But as far as I’ve noticed, most BPO employees change names (or are forced to change names) to please employers and eventually foreign clients. I think that is sad!

  3. Now, this is an interesting topic you’ve touched. The social dynamics around names, as such, go very deep. If you specifically focus on cinema, it only gets more complex, since cinema selects and magnifies, by perhaps a hundred times, only certain things that exist in society. (Only certain aspects being blown out of proportion is the fundamental principle in operation in caricature drawing, so the picture we see, while still representing certain truths, must also be adjusted for error.)

    That way, it’s not just Tamil cinema; it’s not just the current times. You may have to start from that great grand-dad of Indian cinema, Dileep Kumar, who was born Mohammed Yusuf Khan. (Interestingly, A.R.Rahman was born Dileep Kumar, who subsequently converted to Islam and took a new name; but, that other Malayalam/Tamil actor who initially bore the name Rahman, the one who acted in movies such as pudhup pudhu arththangaL, modified his name to Raghu—short for Raghu-maan, apparently!) Even our own Kamal Haasan, while responding to an interviewer’s question about the “Haasan” in his name, said that his father felt that the ambiguity (over his religious background, of course) induced by “Haasan” might actually be good, in a way.

    Also, it’s not just about one’s religion; sometimes, it’s about the region that one comes from. Case in point: Prakash Raj is Prakash Rai in Kannada. (Why couldn’t he have continued as Prakash Rai in Tamil? Considering that Aishwarya Rai, who also happens to hail from Mangalore, did not have to touch her name up to enter the Tamil film industry, you might want to investigate to see whether there also exists a gender angle to it! Or, is it to be more accurately attributed to the West’s global economic strategies—all those beauty pageants!) Also, Arjun is Arjun Sarja in Kannada.

    Then, there is the music director Maragadamani a.k.a. Keeravani a.k.a. M.M.Creem (depending on whether it is Kollywood or Tollywood or Bollywood!) That reminds me: Even iLaiyaraaja, according to some reports, was born Daniel Rasaiyya a.k.a. Gnana Desikan! But K.J.Yesudas, for all the embarrassment he had to face from both the sides, did not have to change his name. Nor did Shahul Hameed, who in his short span, had become a favourite for his unique voice timbre and thanks to the several hit songs he gave.

    Now, as regards Saravanan becoming Surya and such other stories, that’s an entirely different aspect. We the audience are to blame, as well—our perpetually warped ideas, notions, and expectations about what is cool, what looks cool, what sounds cool, and so on. In our collective psyche, some names are ‘cool’ and some are not. And anything and everything about our favourite matinee idols, including but not limited to their names, just HAS TO BE ‘cool’ in one way or another—trendy, slick, urbane, modern, . . . you name it! (That’s perhaps why Saravanan had to become Surya, Murthy had to become Parthiban, Sadhaf had to be become Sadha, Tabassum had to become Tabu, and Nagamma had to become Nagma! No, not really! I made the last one up!) :)

    -V.
    (p.s.: And I haven’t even mentioned nameology and numerology.)

    • Sorry for the delay in response. But I must admit that your comment is a blog post in itself. Thanks for taking the time.

      It’s also to note that some people choose a pseudonym in a way it doesn’t seem forced, really. Sujatha..Vali..Cho..where the pseudonym is deliberate and makes a point. I believe this is also peculiar to Tamil cinema (if you’d excuse wwf that is).

      Jayam Ravi, Nizhalgal Ravi, Kovai Sarala, Malaysia Vasudevan are all very curious names as well. Imagine if someone’s name was Srirangam Ranganathan, what fate would be his. (Madhavan Ranganathan has somehow survived).

  4. What a dumb article! It sure helps to have a short name easy on the tongue than one which breaks a jaw! Wish the author would come up with some better articles

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