Changing names for potential success in Bollywood

2014-02-20 00:00

AFTER last week’s column on nicknames of Bollywood stars, reader Arthi Sookdev made contact to ask whether it is true that Bollywood actors often have to change their real names for religious reasons in order to achieve success.

That might have been the reasoning behind John Abraham adopting the first name by which his father called him rather than his given Parsi name of Farhan, which would have given him a Hindu/Christian mix.

But I do not believe that actors are compelled or obliged to change their names these days for religious reasons.

It certainly does sometimes happen as a personal choice on the advice of agents or producers, based on views that more catchy names will lure larger numbers to the box office.

In the case of Indian film stars, many also change their names based on advice from astrologers that they consult after looking for answers as to why their films failed.

In the early days of Indian cinema, there certainly were many actors who changed their Muslim names to Hindu ones, largely because the Muslim community still frowned upon acting as being an undesirable vocation.

One of the greatest thespians of Indian cinema, Dilip Kumar, switched to that name from his original Yusuf Khan. Initially shunned by her Muslim community before she became one of the greatest divas of the Indian screen, Madhubala’s real name was Mumtaz Begum.

Superstitions abound in the Indian film industry, and even the legendary Amitabh Bachchan changed the screen credit of Amitabh Srivastav in his debut film Saat Hindustani when it bombed badly.

Ajay Devgn dropped the ‘a’ from his surname on the advice of numerologists following a film’s failure, as did Big Brother UK winner Shilpa Shetty, who was advised that it would give her a better numerological status than her original name Ashwini.

Mahima Chaudhary changed her first name from Ritu because of the firm belief of producer Subhash Ghai that all successful actresses he had given debut opportunities to had names starting with the letter ‘m’.

Many stars had name changes purely because their original names would be too difficult for fans to pronounce. The most recent one is Katrina Kaif, whose original surname is Turquotte. She changed it to Kaif on the advice of an industry insider and has never looked back since.

Sanjeev Kumar might not have got the acclaim he did if he remained Haribhai Jarivala or Dev Anand if he were still Devdutt Pishorimal Anand.

Govinda just decided to drop the rest of his name, Arun Ahuja; and Akshay Kumar sounds much better for an action hero than Rajiv Hari Om Bhatia.

The eternal diva on and off screen that we all know as Rekha dropped the rest of her name, Bhanurekha Ganesan, despite the surname coming from one of the most respected stars of South India.

Even the superstars of Hindi and Tamil cinema have had name changes. In Tamil cinema, former bus conductor Shivaji Rao Gaikwad became superstar Rajnikanth and Jatin Khanna became Rajesh Khanna, the heartthrob of millions of women in the seventies. Undaunted by the fame of the Kapoor film dynasty, even though he was no relation, Ravi Kapoor opted not to cash in on that and remained just Jeetendra on screen, achieving fame for his dancing in white suits and boots that earned him the nickname ‘Jumping Jack Jeetendra’.

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