Tamil cinema has a unique way of distinguishing the otherwise everyday names of actors

Silk Gemini and Coconut Wondered why some actors have such interesting names
news Tamil Cinema Tuesday, March 08, 2016 - 19:29

If you read the news of Kalabhavan Mani’s death this past Sunday, and are unfamiliar with Tamil cinema, you might be forgiven for wondering at his interesting name.

For those not in the know, the “Kalabhavan” in his name is a reference to the centre for performing arts based in Kochi, which also gave rise to a popular mimicry troupe that popularised mimicry in Kerala. Mani, who was born Mani Raman, kicked off his career with this troupe, and added its name to his own, making his acting pedigree identifiable at first glance.

In this, Kalabhavan Mani is not alone. Instead he follows in a long tradition that is quite unique to Tamil cinema (and to other South Indian film industries, although not as widespread). Starting from the early days of Tamil cinema, there have been a number of actors over the years that have identified themselves, or have been identified, by nicknames that indicate how they first entered the industry or found fame in it.

That grand old man of Indian cinema, Gemini Ganesan (born Ramaswamy Ganesan), for instance, entered the film industry after a stint as a Lecturer in Madras Christian College. He started off, not as an actor, but as a production executive at Gemini Studios, and the tag “Gemini” stuck.

(Photo Courtesy: Saregama.com)

For a number of actors over the years, their first hit film has over time become inextricably linked to their names. Nizhalgal Ravi, who has performed virtually every kind of role available in Tamil cinema, rose to fame with Bharatiraja’s Nizhalgal, which interestingly dealt with the aspiration to enter the film industry, among other things.

(Photo Courtesy: Pluzcinema.com)

Or Thalaivasal Vijay, known for his performance in films such as Thevar Magan, Mahanadi, Kasi and North 24 Kaatham, made his debut with, you guessed it, Thalaivasal, which told the story of a college principal out to reform a campus rocked by violence.

(Photo Courtesy: Tamilnow.com)

And this isn’t a trend restricted to earlier generations of actors either, as proved by the case of Jayam Ravi. 

(Photo Courtesy: Cinepunch.in)

What’s more, sometimes the same movie could prove the launch vehicle for more  than one actor: hence Aadukalam Murugadoss and Aadukalam Naren, both of whom had debuted in other films, but came into the limelight with this film by Vetrimaaran, which starred Dhanush.

(Photo Courtesy: Youtube, CInemaprofile.com)

Sometimes, though, it’s not the movie but the character that sticks in collective memory. Thus, you have Thengai Srinivasan gave such a splendid performance as a coconut merchant in a play Kal Manam that the famous comedian KA Thangavelu announced he should be called “Thengai Sreenivasan”.  

(Photo Courtesy: Youtube)

Sivaji Ganesan came to his name from portraying the Maratha king on screen. Daniel Balaji, who transitioned to films from the small screen, carried over the moniker Daniel from his character on the mega-serial Chitti. And although he has never served in any of the armed forces or the police, Vijaykanth earned himself the nickname “Captain” (which these days can be used interchangeably with his name to identify him), thanks to his portrayal of a cop in the 1991 film Captain Prabhakaran.

And it’s not a trend that’s restricted to male actors either. Silk Smitha,  was renamed Smitha by director Vinu Chakravarthy, and the moniker Silk came from her character in her breakout film Vandichakkaram.   


(Photo Courtesy: Boxofficereport.org)

We’ve all heard the idiom of letting one’s work speak, but the Tamil film industry takes that to a whole new level it seems. 

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