BOLLYWOOD: THE NAME CHANGERS -Part- I    (Heroes, character artistes, lyricists)

By Sharada Iyer

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;”…



Does this hold true for our industry? A peep into our film industry’s history reveals a fascinating number of artistes of the early era who changed their name to try their luck and write their destiny in the industry. Some chose the names on their own, some were rechristened to suit their personalities, some had to change to avoid confusion with already existing similar name…Well! Whatever the reason, they are now part of our cinematic consciousness and today we cannot imagine them by their original names…

The most famous change of name that comes to our mind is that of Dilip Kumar who did not hesitate in giving up his original name Yusuf Khan and take on the screen name of Dilip Kumar thus establishing the fact that film industry is a place where religion and language would never act as barriers. Born to a fruit merchant, the young Mohammed Yusuf Khan, had no qualms adopting a Hindu name before embarking on an extraordinary film career. In 1942, Devika Rani who was on the lookout to launch a fresh face for her studio Bombay Talkies, took a liking to the young Pathan and wanted to give him a break in her new film Jwar Bhata, but did not like the name Yusuf Khan. He was given a choice of three names to choose from- Jehangir, Vasudev and Dilip Kumar, and the rest as they say, is history.

Here’s a song from his film  Ganga Jamuna that remains an eternal favourite:

The music genius A R Rahman was born as A S Dilip Kumar to parents Kasthuri and Shekhar in 1966, but  had his name changed to Allah Rakha Rahman or A R Rahman after the family embraced Islam and converted to Muslims.

Then we have the country’s first superstar Rajesh Khanna who was born Jatinder Khanna with the nickname of Jatin. When he signed his first film, there happened to be another newcomer named Jatin who was making rounds of the studios. So to avoid confusion his uncle K K Talwar suggested the name ‘Rajesh’ and blessed him saying that one day his nephew would rule the industry and become ‘king among kings’ .Indeed the name proved to be extremely lucky for him and the unprecedented success he saw and the kind of frenzy he whipped up remain unmatched till date.

This song from Safar shows how effortlessly he added simplicity and sincerity to his sex appeal which gave him his unmatched charisma…

While Kumudlal Ganguly  born in Bhagalpur went on to become Ashok Kumar, one of the most the iconic and natural actors of our country, his youngest brother Abhas Kumar Ganguly also changed his name and became the inimitable genius Kishore Kumar. It was by a quirk of fate and due to an unexpected turn of events, that the lab assistant of Bombay Talkies Kumudlal Ganguly, was made the hero of their production Jeevan Naiyya  by the producer Himanshu Rai and given the screen name Ashok Kumar.

Here he shows his prowess as a singer too…

They had another brother Kalyan Kumar Ganguly who changed his name to Anoop Kumar and tried his luck in the industry but did not meet with the success he had hoped for.

This absolutely fabulous song with both Kishore and Anoop is really unique and Kishore’s dancing and acting is simply brilliant…

The Kapoor brothers Ranbir Raj, Shamsher Raj and Balbir Raj, sons of legendary Prithviraj Kapoor took on their nicknames and combined them with their surnames and became Raj Kapoor , Shammi Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor, respectively. The three brothers in spite of an uncanny resemblance to each other developed their own style of acting and never copied each other.

Here is a song from Bluffmaster, in which many of Shammi Kapoor’s gestures remind us of both Raj Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor, and yet he retains an original style..

Not to be confused by the surname Kapoor, the young entrant Ravi Kapoor adopted the screen name Jeetendra and made a debut as hero in 1964 with Geet Gaya Pathron Ne. In 1959, he had been cast as actress Sandhya’s double in Navrang. He and Rajesh Khanna were childhood friends and went to the same school in Girgaum.

A lovely song from Parichay...

‘Saara Shehar Mujhe Loin ke Naam Se Jaanta Hai’, a dialogue made immortal by the villain Ajit, who actually started his career as a hero. Born as Hamid Ali Khan, it was film director K. Amarnath, who suggested that the actor change his long name of Hamid Ali Khan to something shorter, and Hamid zeroed in on “Ajit”.

In this lovely duet, he can be seen romancing Saroja Devi…

Vasanth Kumar Shivashankar Padukone was the eldest of five children born to Vasanti and Shivkumar Padukone, Kannadiga Saraswats from Karwar, a beautiful coastal town in Karnataka and spent more than a decade in Bhawanipore in Calcutta. Not surprisingly he spoke fluent Bengali, carried a distinct stamp of Bengali culture in his work and even decided to adopt a Bengali name Guru Dutt before embarking on a film career. Starting as a choreographer, he went on to make many classics in the golden era.

Here’s a classic song from Pyaasa

It was in the year 1952 that a sub-inspector of Mumbai Police Kulbhushan Pandit decided to try his luck in films at the insistence of his friend and went on to become the legendary Raj Kumar. It is sad that the actor known for his deep baritone, excellent Urdu diction and a unique style of dialogue delivery was afflicted with throat cancer and lost his voice months before succumbing to the dreaded disease.

Here are two dialogues from the films Bulundi and Marte Dum Tak  in that powerful baritone…

When Yudhishtir Sahni, an MA in English literature and teacher in Shanti Niketan, decided to act in films he changed his name to Balraj Sahni and went on to become one of the giants of hindi cinema. He brought a rare dignity to all his characters whether it was serious cinema like Garam Hawa and Do Bigha Zameen or commercial cinema like Lajwanti and Ek Phool do Maali.

This evergreen song picturised on him in Waqt, retains its freshness even today and is loved by both the young and old alike.

Interestingly, Balraj Dutt not to get confused with Balraj Sahni chose the screen name Sunil Dutt.  He worked as a radio show host and celebrity interviewer for some time and even got to interview actress Nargis for the radio station little knowing he would end up marrying her one day. Today our heroes boast of having started the trend of anti-hero roles, but Sunil Dutt ‘s Birju from Mother India remains unique and influenced many writers to delve further into Birju’s psyche to create characters with repressed anger and negative shades in the years to come.

In this lovely song from Aaj Aur Kal, see him romance Nanda

It is said that once while Balraj Sahni was travelling by the BEST bus in Mumbai, he was very impressed with the entertaining antics of the conductor Badruddin Jamaluddin Kazi. He asked the conductor to drop in at the studios the next day to meet the director, Guru Dutt. At that time Balraj Sahni was writing the script of Baazi; so impressed was Guru Dutt with Badruddin’s demonstration of a drunkard that he changed his name to Johny Walker as that was the director’s favourite brand of whiskey and thereafter, Johny Walker became a permanent fixture in all Guru Dutt films.

He had many lovely songs picturised on him…

Naeem Sayyed was one of the six children born to an engine driver in Mumbai and used to stay in the railway quarters in Antop Hill. Spotted during the shooting of a film, little Naeem embarked on a career in acting through a stroke of luck. In 1966, during the shooting of the film Suhaag Raat, little Naeem requested actor Mehmood to invite him also to his daughter’s birthday where he promised to entertain the guests. Mehmood was so impressed with little Naeem Sayyed’s imitation of his own antics, that he immediately made him his disciple and gave him the name Junior Mehmood. The name really transformed the child’s career and he went on to become a highly successful child star who acted in 265 movies in 7 different languages throughout sixties and early seventies.

This song from Brahmachari where he apes his Guru  is really entertaining…

Harihar Jariwala,a.k.a, Sanjeev Kumar remains till date one of the most versatile actors the industry has ever seen. It is said that it was producer-director Saawan Kumar Tak who suggested the name Sanjeev Kumar. On February 14,2014, Shri Narendra Modi inaugurated a state-of-the-art  Sanjeev Kumar auditorium in Surat, as a tribute to this son of Gujarat.

Here we can see Sanjeev Kumar in a romantic mood…

Born as Tshering Phintso DenzongpaDanny Denzongpa belonged to a family who had been Buddhist Monks for 14 generations.  He chose not to be a monk and though initially he wanted to join the Indian Army, fate intervened and he enrolled himself in FTII’s acting course. Starting from B-grade films he rose to the ranks of one of the most respected actors of our industry. He decided to change his name to a simpler sounding “Danny” as his original name was tough to be pronounced by other students at the institute and the name remained since then.

Being a good singer, he has sung this song from Kala Sona picturised on himself and Farida Jalal…

Film Industry’s ratified rapist Ranjeet’s original name was Gopal Singh Bedi. It was Sunil Dutt who changed his name to suit his character in his early film Reshma Aur Shera and later recommended him for the villain’s role in Sharmeelee after which Ranjeet’s career as a villain took off in a big way and of the 200 odd films he did , his character was called Ranjeet in about 25 of them.

Another industry villain who  underwent a name change was Jeevan. Born as  Omkar Nath Dhar he made his debut as a hero in 1935 with the film Fashionable India but soon shifted to character roles and made his mark as a villain with a nasal tinge in his dialogue delivery. some of his famous roles are in Kanoon, Mela, Johny Mera Naam, Amar Akbar Anthony,etc.

Manoj Kumar was born in Abbottabad as Harikishen Giri Goswami. When he was 10 years old,his family had to flee to Delhi due to partition and they had to stay in a refugee camp. After graduation,  he decided to enter the film industry. He had always been an admirer of Dilip Kumar and decided to change his name to Manoj Kumar after Dilip Kumar’s character in the 1949 film, Shabnam. He went on to make some classic patriotic films.

Here’s a romantic song from one of his early films Hariyali Aur Raasta

Rajiv Hari Om Bhatia’s transformation from a waiter in Bangkok to superstar Akshay Kumar in Bollywood is the stuff dreams are made of. His talent and expertise in martial arts first led him to become a teacher and then a model and finally without the help of any Godfather to back him in the industry, changed his name, made a quiet entry and wrote an incredible success story for himself which remains an inspiration to all the outsiders who want to make a mark in tinsel town.

This song from Mohra was a craze when it was released and remains enjoyable even today…

Many lyricists of the early era took on the names of their cities and rechristened themselves-

Lyricist Hasrat Jaipuri was born Iqbal Hussain and started writing poetry from the age of 20. He worked as a bus conductor in Mumbai for eight years . He was a die-hard romantic and his association with Shankar –Jaikishen and Raj Kapoor remains legendary. When he was living in Jaipur he fell in love with a Hindu girl Radha, he wrote a lovely poem for her in a letter. Whether the letter actually reached Radha or not is not clear, but years later Raj Kapoor made it public by using the song in his film Sangam and it remains a classic till date.

Enjoy this super song- Yeh mera prem patra  padhkar…

Not many are aware that Sampooran Singh Kalra is the real name of poet, lyricist and writer-director Gulzar. Initially his father was not happy with his interest in writing, so he took on the pen name  Gulzar Deenvi and later simply Gulzar. Starting his career as a lyricist for the song ‘ Mora Gora Ang Lai Le’ in the 1963  Bimal Roy film Bandini, he gave the industry some iconic films as a storywriter (Anand,), as a lyricist (Khamoshi, Guddi, Mere Apne,) as a dialogue writer ( Aashirwad, Anand) and as a director ( Mausam, Aandhi ). For his outstanding contribution to the film industry he was bestowed with the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke award in 2014.

Here is a song he wrote for Guddi  in 1972 which continues to be a prayer in many schools even today

Sahir Ludhianavi was born Abdul Hayee in 1921. He had a dysfunctional childhood filled with bitter memories of hatred for his father’s  immoral ways and the ill-treatment of his mother by the father. the parting of his parents and the subsequent hardships she endured left permanent scars in his heart and mind. Wanting to escape this and carve out a new identity for himself, he chose the pen-name Sahir (magician) and added his birth city Ludhiana to become the legendary Sahir Ludhianavi.

In the history of Hindi cinema, Sahir remains the only poet-lyricist who became successful because of his lyrics and not because of the tune or the singer. It was due to his unrelenting battle for self-respect and equality for lyricists that resulted in the name of the lyricist getting mentioned on AIR along with the singer and music director. It was one of his biggest contributions. Though he was an atheist, he never let his feelings come in the way of writing some of the greatest devotional songs of Hindi Cinema.

Here’s a bhajan from Hum Dono which remains an all-time favourite…

Om Prakash Bhandari started writing at the tender age of seven but found no support from his family. A wandering minstrel Amar however encouraged him and gave him the name Qamar (moon) to which was added his hometown Jalalabad and thus was born one of the very popular lyricists of the golden era Qamar Jalalabadi. In a career spanning four decades he was associated with some great musicals- Rustom Sohrab, Howrah Bridge, Upkar, Pyar Ki Jeet, Phagun, Himalay Ki God Mein etc.

Here is a very popular song written by him from Chhalia

Do watch out for Part-II of the topic which would cover the heroines and female character artistes who changed their names …


11 thoughts on “BOLLYWOOD: THE NAME CHANGERS -Part- I    (Heroes, character artistes, lyricists)

    1. Please let me know if you would mind my re-blogging this one? Also, would it be possible for you to provide a link to Part II here and a link to this post at the end of Part II please?


  1. Reblogged this on ashokbhatia and commented:
    Branding is an important part of marketing, and who knows this better than the celebrities from the realm of cinema? Assuming an appealing name is a crucial aspect of a celebrity’s image and persona. Here is a well-researched two-part series of posts on some Bollywood personalities. A sumptuous treat for Bollywood fans.


  2. Thank you for this fascinating and informative introduction to a genre I knew nothing about. I covered this, including all the videos, except Waqt which wasn’t available, at one sitting. I look forward to part 2.

    Liked by 1 person

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