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01 Jan 1970 |

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Why film industry changes names

Would a rose by any other name smell just as divine? Well, apparently, people in the Hindi film Industry did not think so. Hence we have a whole swath of name changes in the early years of the film industry. This went on for a long time. These days, I believe things are much better, and people dont seem to mind using their own given names.

The pratice of taking on a name, or using a pseudonym, has been on for a long time in the literary circles. In fact in Urdu shayari, the shayars took on a “takhalloos” or pen name not just to get a new identity or hide their own, but to make a statement of sorts. Another reason was, of course, to have a name which could be blended into the poetry to mark their ownership of their ghazal. It would be clumsy or difficult to word the given name of the shayar in the “makta” (the couplet of the ghazal that had the shayar’s name in it). Hence shayars routinely assumed pseudonyms. That’s easy enough to understand.

Muslim actors often changed names to make them Hindu-sounding to gain immediate acceptance in the film industry of the early years. Hence we had Yusuf Khan assuming the name of Dilip Kumar and getting enormously famous. Hamid Ali Khan became Ajit, while Mumtaz Jehan Begum Dehlavi assumed the hindu name of Madhubala, and Mahjabeen Bano became famous as Meena Kumari. Many actor changed their names from one hindu name to another — Haribhai Jariwala became famous as Sanjeev Kumar, but what beats me is why Jatin Khanna should change his name to Rajesh Khanna and Ravi Kapoor should take on the name of Jitendra.

Some actors shortened their names or chose shorter names to become more easily remembered. Who could be blamed for changing a name like Devdutt Pishorimal Anand and shortening it to Dev Anand? Balbirraj Kapoor probably sounded too grand, and hence was changed to Shashi Kapoor, while brother Shamsher Kapoor chose Shammi as his name. Pran Sikand dropped his lastname to go with just Pran, and became a huge star in his own right.

The list goes on. But lets focus on the musicians — composers and singers.

Most people know that many maharashtrians changed their names to sound more “South Indian” since at the time the south indians ruled the film industry. Hence Ramchandra Narhar Chitalkar became C Ramchandra, Datta Kargaonkar became K Datta and Datta Naik became N Datta. If the last two names are not immediately identifiable, let me jog your memory with some of their work that you’d surely know. N Datta composed superb music for films like Dhool ka Phool (remember Tere Pyaar ka Aasraa chahta hoon?), Chandrakanta (Maine chand aur sitaron ki tamanna ki thi) and the all time great – Aurat ne janam diya mardo ko. Datta Kargaonkar gave music for Badi Maa, among a few other unknown films.

What I find really interesting is that many of the top music directors of the 40’s to the 70’s identified themselves only by a single name! I remember I did one show where I would name the composer of the song I was going to sing with just the last name of the composer, and it was funny that nobody knew who I was talking about! For example, I said, “The composer of the next song is the hit duo of Raghuvanshi-Panchal”. And of course, nobody knew I was refering to Shankar-Jaikishan.

Think about it — only Salil Chaudhari and the Burmans, among the top tier composers were known by their full names. Otherwise, we had names like Laxmikant, Pyarelaal, Ravi, Naushad, Jaidev, Kalyanji, Anandji, Roshan, Chitragupt, Hemant Kumar, Madan Mohan, etc. Would Roshan’s music not be known if he used his full name of Roshanlal Nagrath? Would Ravi’s melodious score sound less melodious if he billed himself as Ravishankar Sharma? Then again, if the reason was that it helped people to remember their names, why didn’t SD Burman simply call himelf “Sachin”?

I can understand the duos calling themselve by their first names since the names would get too long — Laxmikant Pyarelal is easier to read than Laxmikant Kudalkar-Pyarelal Sharma. But interestingly, one composer duo later did use their full name even as a duo – the team of Dilip Sen-Samir Sen. Perhaps, it was because their last names were short.

So this article really is just a ramble on the vagaries of the film industry. Patterns get formed for no apparent reason and people like me with nothing better to do, ruminate about these patterns when we see them.

I am sure many of you will know of many other such assumed names/ real names combinations and would love to hear from you, especially if you have any insights into WHY the names were changed in the first place.

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July 11th, 2016

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