27 December, 2009

Whats in a Name?

That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. – Juliet,

Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare

The bright light of the afternoon sun made me blink. The eyes screwed up and began adjusting the vision while the brain started to process the location of the nearest auto rickshaw stand. I had just spent the last 3 hours in a dark cinema hall being thoroughly entertained by a movie called “3 Idiots” and as I flagged and got into the 3 wheeler, the names of 3 film stars of Indian cinema flashed across triggering a train of thought. Comparing film icons or film stars is a national pastime & was not immune to it. Auto comparison is what this was ( Auto = Automatic and not because it was done while I was inside an Auto rickshaw). There is no other reasoning of the need to compare them at all, but for an idle mind that needed some fodder. The neuron of wackiness had raised its head in my head.

The names that immediately popped into my mind were Amitabh Bacchhan, Shahrukh Khan and Aamir Khan; 3 equally talented and successful superstars of Indian cinema. If ever one is to compare then the ground for comparison needs to be a fair ground. This very small sample set met all parameters required for popularity and talent in their field of choice. Their beginnings had been relatively similar too; they had taken nearly 20 odd films to get to their big breaks to get stably established. All came from non-acting backgrounds. Two are contemporaries while the third though active is a generation senior to the other two. These were the apples in my basket. We are not discussing favorites here as I have liked them all at different phases so what was my originally idiotic thought that began this train?

If one is to take a closer look at Billy the Bard’s line and turn it upside down, does it conversely hold true. Can anything that smells sweet be called a Rose? or if you call something a Rose will it begin to smell sweet? Is there a power or a character that emerges from taking on a name ? And what connects this thought to our 3 stars?

Examine this:

Amitabh Bacchhan made his debut in Saat Hindustani and after a few false starts was about to return back to where he came from. One can almost visualize the scene at the railway platform, as he is boarding the train. 3 people who were standing there one producer-director, Prakash Mehra and 2 writers ( Salim Khan & Javed Akhtar ) call out "Vijayyyyy" and Bacchhan turned to look back, "Come back don’t go" they say. He stays back and makes cinematic history as the angry young man. Amitabh on screen became synonymous with Vijay. This at the most changed to Jai or Jay. Whether he preferred to be called by that name or the directors/producers insisted he be called thus can remain a mystery. What is not a mystery is in almost all roles for close to 15 years that he did thereafter he was Vijay. This was till his fall from grace after some really crass movies like Lal Badhsah that he took a break, from these ashes to again be reborn like a phoenix on TV and rekindle a film career. The funny coincidence is that in all the movies where Amitabh has had the name Vijay despite roles being different; the displayed angst is identical whether he played a cop or a don. The variety of Vijay’s career graph has been in the different last names/ surnames, as he changed from a Vijay Khanna to a Vijay Dinanath Chauhan. You take one Vijay and you have seen them all which is a tragic waste of nearly fifteen productive years of a great talent.


Shahrukh Khan began his film career as an extra in the mercurial movie “In which Annie gives it to those ones” a movie that was written by the Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy. If you blink you would miss him. TV happened to him nearly the same time where he was noticed and his work appreciated. Shahrukh Khan's most exciting phase of work is in his early years but that did not make him King Khan till he donned the mantle of a lover boy “Raj” in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge in the year 1995. Till date after this movie, saving two or three exceptions, SRK has been some version of Raj/Rahul. The journey of 14 years has been a repetition of playing himself where the character in the script could be anybody, but what would emerge is Raj/Rahul. Lately he even started appearing as SRK the superstar ( Billu, Luck By chance, Om Shanti Om). SRK/Raj is what you would get whether playing a suave Don or an ancient Indian emperor-Asoka. The day he actually chucked aside that tag to play Kabir Khan in Chak De and a Mohan Bhargava in Swades, a different character came through. But these were more exceptions than a rule. Here one could see flashes of his earlier brilliance, being shaken up awake from a long hibernation. Before one got used to this he returned back to playing Raj in his comfort zone. SRK and Raj have got so intermingled that the work has a sameness which does not befit his talent. It is the intoxication of perpetual perching on the imagined throne of Hindi cinema that requires King Khan to remain a "Raj".

Raj rules now as Vijay did earlier. There is a peculiar power in these names that have graced the characters played by these two stars.


Aamir Khan too has tasted immense success in Quayamat Se Quayamat Tak (his debut as a lead actor) as a Raj. He again saw big success when he had the name Raja for "Dil" and "Raja Hindustani", both spectacular hits. In these 3 movies Raj & Raja are similar romantic characters. Coincidence? But this actor has never been king nor seemingly aspired to be one as evident in his path to stardom. His has been the path of a daring knight of the Kings court who could do anything. A dashing reporter in " Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahi" who is hungry for a story, boarding an inter-city bus as Raghu Jetley kick-started this journey. The character Pooja played by Pooja Bhatt even asks the question at some point in the film “What kind of a name is Raghu Jetley?” His journey has had some interesting milestones; Sanjaylal Sharma the enfant terrible student who comes of age in "Jo Jeeta wohi Sikander". Siddhartha Marathe of "Ghulam", Amar Dhamjee in "Baazi", Munna of "Rangeela", DJ of "Rang De Basanti" all have had their time. Akash Malhotra of "Dil Chahta Hai" could not have been more different from a Bhuvan of "Lagaan" or a Ram Shankar Nikumbh of "Taare Zammen Par". With each name a different flavor has emerged to the character played by this actor. The movies may not have all succeeded phenomenally but the journey from Raghu Jetley to Rancho of 3 Idiots been rich varied and fulfilling. This then extends to the viewers who wait in anticipation for a new movie to release and a new character with a new name to emerge.

It is said that with “Six Degrees of Separation” one can connect anything or anyone. This was the muddled tattle about the nomenclatural title ruffling the cerebral neuron as I came out of the movie.

20 comments:

Soul Images said...

Crisp and to the point. Liked it.

Cricket Guru said...

You can also add Raj Kapoor’s name to that elite list. He played Raju (or Raj) in many films, notably, Awaara, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hain, Mera Naam Joker and Shree 420.

Incidentally, both AK and SRK acted in remakes of RK movies – SRK in Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (a remake of 420) and AK in Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin (a remake of Chori Chori).

I tried to recall a Amitabh movie, which could even remotely resemble a Raj Kapoor film. I could not, and that also set me thinking…..

Raj Kapoor made movies in an era when the nation was in its infancy. It was also entrenched in a socialist mindset and deeply influenced by Nehru’s left of the centre thinking. The movies, more often than not, mirrored the dreams and hopes of this young nation. They also reflected social and moral values that the country aspired to imbibe.

(Raj Kapoor’s directorial debut, ‘Aah’, had the lead actor (RK himself) dying of TB in the original script. The story was altered, to create awareness amongst public, that TB could indeed be cured)

When Amitabh truly arrived on the scene, these dreams had almost turned sour. Hope had given way to frustration. The late 70s and the 80s therefore generally produced movies, which were a far cry from the simple, idealistic movies of the 50s and the 60s. They either showcased a rebel fighting for a cause or portrayed harsh realities of life (the so called ‘Art’ films).

Both these portrayals were in complete contrast to Raj Kapoor’s the simple and often undemanding 'Raju'.

About the only common factor, I could think of in AB and RK films was that, Mili’s storyline was purportedly changed too, to show a happy ending!

PS: My ramblings couldn’t be in more contrast to your 'crisp and to the point' post, as Gauri rightly put!

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

Thank you Gau...it was just a thought pursued

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

Nopes Vinayak...very well put in fact. Appreciate your point on Raj Kapoor, have been a fan of his cinema...

The point here was the name of the role played, and the character that emerges from taking on that name...hence in that strain...

"Raj" would become a lover, rich/upper middle class,winner. In contrast the "Raju" of Raj Kapoor as u rightly said is a common man...Simple values, Commoner may or may not win all battles :)

Cricket Guru said...

One correction..

'Aah' was directed by Raja Navathe, not Raj Kapoor. RK's directorial debut film was Aag.

One addition..

"What's in a Name" also reminded me of a post that I wrote on my blog couple of years ago, titled The Name Game.

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

Read your post on 'The Name Game'...
Very nicely written.Had read it earlier too.

Cricket is a sport that never caught my fancy...yup am one of those freak Indians...think thats possibly why I could not recall ;-))

dotcomgirl said...

Excellent post! Enjoyed reading it a lot. I have never met anyone with so much knowledge of films and succinctly putting that knowledge into a great article. Bravo!

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

Takes a filmy bow...geee...I love the medium of Cinema...so it just bubbles out :)

Bhagyashree said...

DCG has very rightly said what was in my mind. I read this post 3-4 times, enjoyed it but didn't know how or what to comment upon;) EXCELLENT

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

Wow...high praise for a muddled thought..Thanks Bhagyashree

Pradeep said...

As usual Kau, thoroughly enjoyed it.

I thought that Aamir was from the Media industry. Wasn't his uncle or someone in the film industry, and who launched him in QSQT?

Also, even though AB did the same kind of roles, his persona in each one was different. Sharabhi, Imaan Dharam, Amar Akbar Anthony, Naseeb, different stories and convincing performances...maybe I like his acting too much :-). Infact, I admire all three of them...

Great job Kau!

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

Hey Pradeep, welcome back
Yup Aamir had a family who was in films with his father being a producer and uncle the hot shot Naasir Hussain...but none had an acting background.
And u are a Bacchhan fan like me ...Anthony from AAA, Johhnny from Naseeb, Vijay from Sharaabi,all are mild derivatives of one another,,,,Go hit the bottle, while drunk go give a speech to your mirror/brother/father/heroine/mohalla/...and then somewhere towards the end, bash up a few goons...yikes

Ahmed Raza of Iman Dharam was a strong derivative,difference was he could not drink...Dharam prevented it :-)
Hrishikesh Mukherji gave him some roles that did stretch his boundaries...the rest exploited his explosive image and hamming antics

eleanor said...

.....I am bound—you are bound—to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people. It's a profound thought...I doubt it. How everyone is a new door, opening into other...Ouisa Kittredge in John Guare's famous Play 'Six degrees of Seperation'.

Wow ! I like the line...Is there a power or a character that emerges from taking on a name ? Yes it does, because you relate to the person's character/mood/behaviour (which must have stuck chord with your psyche somewhere deep down)thruough his/her name and if one is an eternal romantic, the name not only takes a power but rings a bell or creates an impact every time one hears it or reads it...

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

Thanks Eleanor, yes its a very powerful connect in names...and its a character, flavor, khushboo...u call it connect but thats for the familiar...what about Phunsook Wangdu?

eleanor said...

Well am yet to see the flick so can comment about Phunsook later. What if someone changed his/her name like say very common in the virtual world, can the flavour, khushboo...(through the things they write/express) be evident enough to project the original ?

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

I truly dont know about this Eleanor, think about it this way...I give u a very off the beaten path example ...Reliance decides to get into retail selling vegetables and produce...and then decide to name themselves 'Reliance Fresh'this is a name taken on by choice...someplace the need to be fresh always becomes a compulsion...almost like a drive. The day they change this, the pressure is off. Character can change.
Now with people it may or may not work out exactly similar...a girl may be a whiner and change her name to Khushi, can have some magic work on her, worth a try? Now if she already is a whiner and named Khushi, change the name Khushi and relieve her of the pressure...;-)

Sonal said...

Hi Kau,

Liked ur post. Hey u forgot Sanjay Singhania in Gajini, one more character Aamir played to perfection. and Aamir doesnt feel the need to be a Vijay or a Raj/ Rahul in every movie. Every character played by him is unique and distinct in their own way. U got to give it to him.
hey do u still watch movies in the first week of its release. That reminds me of yr crazy obsession to watch them to have a first hand account. Would love if you could review some of them. i knw u r a grt Bollywood fan.
Keep writing,

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

Hey Sonal,

Good to have u here. First day first shows are not possible all the time but the drive and endeavor exists. Those that we want to watch are caught with latest by the Sunday of the first week:))

No re reviewing movies is a specialized job and used to like Iqbal Masud's reviews, Khalid Mohammed took them into some catty style of reviewing and the ones todays are a bunch of jokers who are but watered down versions of Khalid.

mohan said...

Very well written Kau , a lesser known fact that Jeetendra was Ravi or Engineer Ravi ( probably derived from a fascination for his name ) in many movies. Not only that he made a career out of being suspected of his wife of infidelity in all the South movies be it a Judaai, Ek Hi Bhool, Maang Bharo Sajna et al

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

Thanks Mohan, Actually Ravi Kapoor was the first one that came to my mind...because he is unique...here is a guy who changes his real name to a screen name Jeetendra and then ends up playing most characters in his white trousered white shoe career with the name he was born with....

He is like Superman,,,who disguises himself like Clark Kent for the world...but when its action time ..sheds the Clark Kent...to revert back to his original form