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…
Starting her career as Baby Meena in Leatherface, Mahajabeen was first given the screen name Baby Meena by director Vijay Bhatt and later when she started her career as a heroine, she rechristened herself as Meena Kumari and went on to become one of the greatest actresses of our industry. It is sad that she left the world without seeing the extraordinary success of her last film- Pakeezah…
Meena Kumari as a child artiste
Meena Kumari opposite Kishore Kumar in a light-hearted role in the film Memsahib…
Mumtaz Jehan Dehlavi started acting in films at the age of nine as Baby Mumtaz and went on to do several successful films before her first break as a heroine came in 1942- opposite Raj Kapoor in Neel Kamal at the tender age of 14. Actress Devika Rani was very impressed by her performance and potential, and advised her to assume the screen name ‘Madhubala’ . She is considered to be one of the most beautiful actresses of the Golden Era of the Hindi film industry and her outstanding performance as Anarkali in Mughal-e-Azam remains etched in the hearts of cine-lovers.
Watch this song of Madhubala as a child artiste in her first film Basant, 1942…
Nargis was born on June 1, 1929 as Fatima Rashid in Rawalpindi, British India, daughter to Jaddanbai and Uttamchand Mohanchand, a Hindu Mohyal Brahmin. Her mother was a well-known dancer, singer, actor, composer, and director. This is what paved the way for Fatima to become a child artiste (Baby Rani) as early as 1935 and from there she went on to become one of the most accomplished actresses of our country.
Here she can be seen romancing Raj Kapoor with whom her chemistry was scintillating…
Young Nawab Bano born in Agra probably had no inkling that she would one day conquer the industry as Nimmi, who made a dream debut with Raj Kapoor’s Barsaat. She was only nine years old when her mother died and she was sent to live with her grandmother in Abbotabad. Partition followed and soon they shifted to Mumbai where she stayed with her aunt who was married to the then famous playback singer G M Durrani. Once while watching the shooting of Mehboob Khan’s Andaz, Raj Kapoor spotted her and signed her as the second lead for Barsaat and was given the screen name of Nimmi.
A song from her film Aan, India’s first technicolour film…
Born in a Gujarati family, Kokila Kishorechandra Balsara’s acting career began when she was selected in response to an advertisement in a Gujarati newspaper looking for actors. Both she and her husband Kamal Roy had applied and as luck would have it, she got selected. She changed her name to Nirupa Roy and in a career spanning more than 50 years she went on to play some great roles and attained iconic status with her role as Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor’s mother in Deewar. Though her husband was very encouraging, her father was so unhappy with her decision that he refused to talk to her till the end of his life.
Here’s a soft number from Bhai-Bhai…
The very mention of the name Lailita Pawar brings to our mind the evil mother-in-law who infused such menace and venom in her characters that the audience along with the on-screen daughters-in-law shivered at the sight of her. Her real name however was Amba Laxman Rao Sagun and she started her acting career at the tender age of nine in the film, Raja Harishchandra (1928). During the shooting of a scene in the movie Jung-E-Azad(1942), she was slapped so hard by her co-actor Bhagwan, that it resulted in permanent facial paralysis of the left side of her face and a burst left eye vein. Not one to cower down to fate she turned that into her USP and etched out some remarkably vile characters (and a few kind-hearted ones too), in a career spanning seven decades.
Here’s a famous song picturised on her in the film Gharana in 1961, yet retains its appeal even today…
Durga Khote was born as Vita Laud in an upper crust Brahmin family, was highly educated and unfortunately was a widowed mother with two sons by the age of 26. She started acting in films to support her family and thus became the first woman from a respectable background to enter the industry. She was thus a path-breaker and gave award-winning performances both as a heroine and later as a successful character artiste, the most notable among them being Mughal-e-Azam and Bidaai.
This is a song from her 1943 film Prithvi Vallabh
Bina Rai, the celebrated actress of hit films like Anarkali and Taj Mahal was born as Krishna Sarin in Lahore. When she was in the first year of her college in Lucknow, she won a talent contest for actors and was signed by producer-director-actor Kishore Sahu for her first film Kali Ghata. She was also the heroine of Insaaniyat, the only film in which Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar acted together in their entire career.
Here’s a song from her film Ghunghat, for which she won the filmfare best actress award in 1960…
Shyama, born Khurshid Akhtar, began her outing in Hindi cinema as a nine-year-old. She became one of the chorus singers in the qawwali “Aahen na bhari” in the Noorjehan starrer Zeenat (1945). Coincidentally Shyama had many lovely qawaalis picturised on her during her career including the all-time great ‘Yeh Ishq Ishq Hai…’ from the film Barsaat Ki Raat. It was director Vijay Bhatt who gave her the screen name Shyama and she went on to play lead roles, second lead roles as well as roles with negative shades in her long career.
Here is a lovely number by Lata Mangeshkar picturised on her in the 1957 film Bhabi
Florence Ezeikel was born into a Jewish family in Baghdad in 1931. She migrated as an infant to Mumbai and adopting the screen name Nadira the 12-year old made her Hindi film debut in 1943 with a small role in Mauj. But her career blossomed only nine years later when she was cast as a Rajput princess by director Mehboob Khan opposite Dilip Kumar in the huge box-office hit Aan. The success of her negative character in Shree 420 fetched her many accolades and got to essay many vamp roles after that. She won the Best Supporting Actress award for her role in Julie.
Her unforgettable number from Shree 420–
Uma Devi Khatri, aka TunTun, started her career as a singer at the age of 13 and was lucky to get her first break under the music maestro Naushad who gave her many memorable songs especially her evergreen number ‘Afsana likh rahi hoon…’. Later when new singers started appearing in the arena, it was Naushad who suggested to her to turn to acting and her first break was in the Dilip Kumar-Nargis starrer ‘Babul’ and it was on the sets of this film that Dilip Kumar gave her the name Tun Tun. She went on to become Hindi Cinema’s first and till date the most popular female comedienne. She acted with the all the top actors and actresses of her time and left her mark in every film.
Here is a lovely song where she teams up as a playback singer with Suraiya in the 1947 film Dard-
Naseem Bano was born as Roshnara in 1916 into a very wealthy and aristocratic family and came to be known as the ‘Beauty Queen’ and ‘first female Superstar’ of Hindi cinema. It was Sohrab Modi who first offered her a role in his film Hamlet but as her mother was not keen on her taking up an acting career. Naseem resorted to tears and went on a hunger strike till her mother finally gave in. Hamlet made her an overnight sensation. Though she acted in many films, it was her role as the Empress Noor Jahan in the film ‘Pukar’ directed by Sohrab Modi that fetched her immense popularity. After retirement from films, she began a new career designing clothing especially intricately embroidered saris, for her daughter Saira Banu.
Who can forget Manorama, the comedianne vamp of Sita Aur Gita, Do Kaliyan, Ek Phool Do Mali, and Mastana? With her large glowering Kohl-lined eyes and exaggerated expressions she left her stamp in many a vamp role. Starting her screen life as Baby Iris, young Erin Issac Daniels, with an Irish mother and an Indian Christian father changed her name to Manorama under the suggestion of Roop K Shorey.
Fearless Nadia remains the only female stunt heroine to have entered the industry and her films like Hunterwaali, Diamond Queen, Miss Frontier Mail etc., met with great box-office success. Originally born as Mary Evans in Australia she came to India at the age of five. She toured India as a theatre artist, worked in a circus for some time and changed her name to Nadia on the advice of a fortune teller. It is indeed remarkable as to how a blue-eyed foreigner who neither spoke the Indian language nor fit into the stereotypical image of the Indian woman came to be accepted as a Hindi film heroine and that too a mask-wearing, whip-cracking, sword wielding, chandelier-swinging stunt heroine who did her own stunts.
The star of the silent era Ruby-Myers was an Anglo-Indian and decided to adopt the name Sulochana before entering films and went on to become the highest paid actress of her time. Interestingly she has the unique distinction of having acted in three versions of Anarkali– first in the 1928 silent film followed by the talkie version of the same film in 1935 and again in the 1953 film also but this time instead of the heroine she played the role of Salim’s mother.
Saraswati Devi, the film industry’s first lady music director known for her evergreen hits ‘Main Ban Ki Chidiya Ban me …’,’Chal chal Re Naujawan…’,’ Na jaane kidhar aaj meri Nao chali Re… ,etc., was born Khurshid Minocher Homji in a Parsi family. Her love for music made her study Hindustani classical music and along with her sister she used to give a program in All India Radio under the name of Homji Sisters. It was then that Himanshu Rai ,one of the owners of Bombay Talkies decided to give her a break as music director in Jawaani Ki Hawa. this was followed by her first hit film Achhut Kanya. The Parsi community was not happy and to conceal her identity, he gave her the name Saraswati Devi.
Here is a song from her 1942 film Jhoola
Do see the previous post which has the first part of the blog
BOLLYWOOD: THE NAME CHANGERS (Part- I) (Heroes, character artistes, lyricists)