A peek at how initials have been integral to the identity of many big names in the film industry

What do those letters in front of your name represent? This is an oft-asked question that most people from the Southern States, especially Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, face. The initials that usually flummox most people have also been integral to the identity of many popular names.

Showbiz has always had it. The first initial is the hometown and the next the father / mother’s name, in most cases. Mayavaram Krishnamurthy Thyagarajan, Pudukkottai Ulaganathan Chinnappa and Nagercoil Sudalaimuthu Krishnan were better known to millions as MKT, PUC and NSK. We just love these initials so much that we have given them to even the sons of Punjab. The story goes that the famous cricketer Ram Singh had ‘Amritsar Gobind Singh’ (the place he was from and his father’s name) added as initials by the school. His son Milkha Singh, another great cricketer, said they took on the initials to give their names a more Madras feel and to show that they belonged here. Needless to say, the other famous sons Kripal and Satwendar too had the initials A.G. before their names.

Among all the entertainers, only three famous people have Madras or parts of it in their initials — Madras Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan (actor M.R. Radha); Madras Lalithangi Vasanthakumari (Carnatic vocalist MLV) and Mylapore Kandaswamy Radha (stage and film actor M.K. Radha). Marudur Gopala Menon Ramachandran became MGR. When his debut film Parasakthi released, actor Sivaji Ganesan was known as V.C. Ganesan — Villupuram Chinnaiah Ganesan. However, his eldest son Ramkumar says V stands for Vettaithidal, their ancestral village.

Both the sought-after singer-heroine Subbulakshmis were better known by their initials — Madurai Shanmugavadivu (MS) and Srivaikundam Doraiswamy (SDS). We also had Kodumudi Balambal Sundarambal (KBS) and a host of other heroines such as T.P. Rajalakshmi (daughter of Panchapakesan from Thiruvaiyaaru) and U.R. Jeevarathinam (UR is a short form of Unjalur, a village near Erode).

Many producers too were better known by their initials — A.V.M. being the prime example (Avichi Meiyappan). The Nagarathars (Chettiars) use a letter in upper case along with a letter in lower case as initials. Sample these — Pl is Palaniappan; Sp is Subbiah (think director Sp. Muthuraman); Ct stands for Chidambaram; and Ar, for Arunachalam. The initials S.V. have been common — we have S.V. Ranga Rao, S.V. Subbiah, S.V. Sahasranamam, S. Varalakshmi, S.V. Venkatraman… Add an M, and you get MSV — M.S. Viswanathan. Manjeri Narayanan Nambiar became M.N. Nambiar while Madurai Narasimha Achary Rajam became M.N. Rajam. We have also had S.A. Asokan, R.S. Manohar, T.S. Balaiah and many more who retained their initials even after they had become famous. Award-winning music composer A.R. Rahman is referred to with his initials often, as is A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

A few exceptions that come to mind from the North where initials did play a part are S.D. Burman and his son R.D. Burman. However, these were just initials of their own name and not their town’s and parents’ name.

The film industry of the 1950s slowly started dropping the initials and replacing them with titles, mostly a reference to their best known films. So, K.A. Thangavelu was better known as ‘Danaal’ Thangavelu, and C.K. Nagesh as ‘Thaai’ Nagesh, and later just Nagesh.

And then there was the practice of alliterative titles — Arignar Anna, Navalar Nedunchezhiyan, Kalaignar Karunanidhi, Sollin Selvan Sampath, Vazhakkaringyar VPR, Kavignar Kannadasan, Murasoli Maran… C. Rajagopalachari was also known as Mootharignar Rajaji. Today, a lot of popular names in the film industry come with a title — Superstar, Ulaganayagan, Supreme Star, Puratchi Thamilan… But an analysis of these names calls for another article.