“Rocking Star Yash” is how the Kannada actor Yash is credited in his films. This is not because the leading man from KGF likes to rock back and forth, but because his fans perceive him as a rugged idol who follows no rules but his own.
What’s in a prefix, after all? Plenty for the southern film industries, whose followers worship their stars and bestow them with heavyweight titles such as mega-star, superstar, and leader. Jayalaxmi didn’t have the momentum associated with Fatafat (fast), but the name stuck. Darling Krishna is so much more fun than plain old Krishna. Why go about your film career with a name like Vijayalakshmi Vadlapati when you can sashay through it as Silk Smitha?
Although some of the screen names seem peculiar or meme-worthy, there is a story behind each of them. Sometimes, prefixes follow the success of a particular movie. Or, the labels get attached to birth names through media reports or fandom.
Some titles are an outcome of the competition between fan groups. Vijay was called Ilayathalapathy, meaning a young commander-in-chief, and has since been promoted to Thalapathy. His rival Ajith is called Ultimate Star or the cooler-sounding Thala (short for Thalapathy). Kannada cinema has titles like Challenging Star and Rebel Star. Telugu has Mega-Star, Burning Star and Energetic Star. Titles given to actors by fan groups are are often appropriated by filmmakers and actors and used in the opening credits of films. Here are some of the stories behind the titles.
Fatafat Jayalaxmi This is a story of a dialogue that caught on quickly. In K Balachander’s Aval Oru Thodar Kathai (1974), Jayalaxmi plays Chandra, a carefree woman and a close friend of Kavitha, the lead character. In her introduction scene, Chandra emerges from the shower clad in a towel with water dripping from her hair. A hot iron has scorched a giant hole in her sari. “Pochu pochu en podavai pochu,” (There goes my sari) says Chandra before adding, “Fatafat” with a dramatic gesture.
“Fatafat” becomes Chandra’s trademark exclamation. When she introduces her boyfriend to her mother, she is asked, “What does a boyfriend mean?” Chandra replies, “A friend who is a boy… fatafat.” She was thereafter known as Fatafat Jayalaxmi.
Silk Smitha Vinu Chakravarthy’s Tamil film Vandichakkaram (1980) saw the debut of Vijayalakshmi Vadlapati as a character named Silk. The actress’s strong screen presence and unmistakable sex appeal made her one of Indian cinema’s most sought after sirens, and she came to be known as Silk Smitha thereafter.
Challenging Star Darshan He was born Darshan Thoogudeepa to veteran Kannada actor Thoogudeepa Srinivas, but acquired the screen name Challenging Star Darshan after the hit action drama Majestic (2002). Darshan is also called Knockout Star and Action King. Whom is he challenging, exactly? It’s not clear.
Hat-trick Hero Shivarajkumar This one is self-explanatory. Kannada superstar Rajkumar’s eldest son Shivarajkumar delivered three hits in a row in the initial years of his career: Anand (1986), Rathasapthami (1986) and Mana Mecchida Hudugi (1987).
Power Star Puneeth Rajkumar No son of Rajkumar can have a conventional name. Puneeth Rajkumar is billed as Power Star Puneeth Rajkumar to mark the blockbuster status of his films. The title even inspired the film Power in 2014, and the word frequently appears in the dialogue and songs in his productions.
Darling Krishna Kannada actor Sunil Nagappa’s screen name is a fusion of two identities. Nagappa played the god Krishna in a television serial. In 2016, he starred in the film Madarangi, which had a song that was called Darling Darling. Hence, Darling Krishna.
Loose Maada Actor Yogesh played the character of the psychotic Loose Maada in the Kannada hit film Duniya in 2007. This was also his debut. Ever since the movie’s success, both fans and the actor identify with this name.
Kiccha Sudeep In the film Huccha (2001), a remake of the Tamil film Sethu (1999), Kannada star Sudeep played a character whose name was Kiccha.
Rockline Venkatesh Stuntman, actor, producer and distributor TN Venkatesh has assumed the screen name Rockline Venkatesh after his production and distribution company, Rockline Productions, which co-produced Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Lingaa, among others.
Huccha Venkat Venkataram Laxman likes to be called Huccha or Mad Venkat. He had played a character by that name in the Kannada film Mental Manja (2005). He also directed and starred in a film by the same name in 2014. The actor’s 2017 film, Porki Huccha Venkat, is again a reference to that name. That’s not all. A number of apps have adopted the moniker – Huccha Venkat Game, Huccha Venkat Task, Huccha Venkat Run and Huccha Venkat Jump.
Tiger Prabhakar The actor is believed to have duelled with a real tiger in his film Huli Hejje (1984).
Delhi Ganesh He has played a character artist in numerous Tamil films and television serials. The prefix dates back to the years before he became an actor and was working with the Indian Air Force in Delhi. Ganesh used to act in stage productions and one-act shows for Army soldiers. After 10 years in Delhi, he migrated to Chennai and began his acting career. “I started acting in dramas in the evenings in Chennai,” Ganesh said in an interview. “Director K Balachander saw my performance...he liked my acting and introduced me to films. Since I started acting in Delhi, KB Sir named me Delhi Ganesh.”
Sivaji Ganesan Villupuram Chinnaiah Ganesan fled home as a child to be a theatre artist. The prefix Sivaji was bestowed by Tamil activist and politician EV Periyar in 1946 after Ganesan played the Maratha king Shivaji in the play Sivaji Kanda Hindu Rajyam.
Gemini Ganesan When Ramasamy Ganesan started working at Gemini Studios in 1947, the future Tamil screen icon rechristened himself Gemini Ganesan. He was also known as Kadhal Mannan, or the King of Romance.
Ganja Karuppu Karuppu Raja made his debut in the Tamil film industry as Ganja Kaduki in Bala’s tragedy Pithamagan (2003). He hasn’t gone back to his original name since.
Thengai Srinivasan He played the role of a coconut (thengai) seller in the Tamil play Kal Mannan. Impressed by the performance, comedian KA Thangavelu renamed Srinivasan as Thengai Srinivasan.
Vennira Aadai Moorthy In the Tamil movie Vennira Aadai (1965), Moorthy Nataraja Shastri was cast as Moorthy, the heroine’s nephew. After the film’s success, he became known as Vennira Aadai (white saree) Moorthy and went on to become one of Tamil cinema’s famous comedians. Nirmala, who played the heroine in this film, also acquired the same prefix. She was known as Vennira Aadai Nirmala.
Nizhalgal Ravi The Tamil actor too started his career with a film that became his namesake, Nizhalgal (1980).
Malaysia Vasudevan The actor and singer Vasudevan grew up in Malaysia. The country’s name stuck even after he pursued his career in Tamil cinema and music.
Punnagai Poo Geetha The name, which means Sweet Smile Geetha, was given to the actor and producer at a radio channel in Malaysia when she was working there – she presumably smiled just like a flower.
Bombay Gnanam She founded the Mahalakshmi Ladies Drama Troupe in Mumbai and later moved to Chennai to continue her career as a theatre, television and film actor. Carnatic musician Bombay Jayashri too began learning music in Bombay and eventually migrated to Chennai. The city travelled with her in her name.
Fish Venkat Hailing from Ganga Putrudu, a community of fisherfolk, Venkat made an impression through a dialogue in the Telugu film Kushi (2001). Then came Aadi (2002), which got him good notices. Usually cast as the hero’s sidekick or the villain’s henchman in such films as Daruvu (2012), Devudu Chesina Manasulu (2012), Sudigadu (2012) and Shivam (2015), he goes by the names Fishhu, Fish Venkat and Fish.
Iron Leg Sastri Like so many other actors on the list, Telugu comedian Gunupudi Vishwanath Shastry came to be known as Iron Leg Shastry after he played a character with the name in the movie Appula Appa Rao (1991).
KPAC Azeez and KPAC Lalitha Both were members of the Kerala People’s Arts Club before they started appearing in Malayalam cinema.
Idavela Babu In English, the name becomes Interval Babu. The Malayalam actor is named after his debut film, Idavela (1982).
Mafia Sasi Sasidharan is a popular stuntman, especially in the Malayalam film industry. But he shot to fame with the stunts he performed in the Hindi film Mafia (1996), starring Dharmendra, Aditya Pancholi and Gulshan Grover. As is the practice, the film’s name became his screen name thereafter.
Kalabhavan Shajohn He began his career as a mimicry artist at the Kalabhavan cultural centre in Kochi. The centre also inspired the screen name of the actor Kalabhavan Mani, who was born Kunnisseri Veettil Raman Mani and began his career as a mimicry artist. Kalabhavan Mani died in 2016 from alcohol poisoning.
Vinay Forrt Vinay Mani, a film actor and theatre activist, was born in Fort Kochi.
Sihi Kahi Chandru The name literally means Sweet and Bitter Chandru. Both Chandru and his wife Geetha starred in a Doordarshan Kannada serial called Sihi Kahi. It became the prefix to both their names soon after.
Mukhyamantri Chandru Kannada actor Honnasandra Narasimhaiah Chandrashekhar became Mukhyamantri Chandru after he headlined a play of the same name. The actor also served as the chairperson of the Kannada Development Authority.
Master Hirannaiah The 83-year-old Kannada film and theatre artist, whose real name is Narasimha Murthy, was inspired by his father’s name, Hirannaiah. Known for his sharp political satire, especially in his plays, Master Hiranniah has kept the characters made popular by his father’s drama troupe, alive. His play Lanchavatara has had more than 10,000 shows.
Omakuchi Narasimhan There are two reasons why Tamil actor Narasimhan was called Omakuchi, or matchstick. It is the name of a character he portrayed on the stage when he was a part of the Thillairajan drama troupe. The name is also a reference to his thin frame.
Duniya Vijay Kannada actor Vijay Kumar BR adopted his screen name after the success of his film Duniya (2007).
Major Sundarrajan K Balachander has a hand in this prefix too. Sundarrajan got his screen name after playing the blind and retired army official in Balachander’s Tamil film Major Chandrakanth in 1966.
Thriller Manju Known for his work as a stuntman, action director, choreographer and martial arts artist, Kannada legend Manjunatha Kumar’s prefix is an obvious reference to his thrilling stunts.
Different Danny Giving some competition to Thriller Manju is Different Danny, who is also a stunt choreographer, known for his “different” stunts.
Bank Janardhan The Kannada actor worked as an employee at Vijaya Bank before he became an actor.
Crazy Mohan Tamil dramatist and film writer Rangachari Mohan began writing plays when he was in college. His first successful play was titled Crazy Thieves in Palavakkam (1976). It was this play that gave him the moniker Crazy. The play also inspired his troupe, Crazy Creations, in 1979.
Lux Beauty R Padma R Padma is believed to have been a Lux soap model before she became an actor in Tamil cinema.
Veenai Balachander Sundaram Balachander was a veena artist along with being a successful filmmaker, producer, actor and singer. Among his best-known films is the cult Tamil murder mystery from 1954, Andha Naal.
Kaka Radhakrishnan He had the prefix Kaka, or crow, attached to his name after a role he played in his debut film Mangaiyakkarasi (1949). Radhakrishnan climbs a tree to catch a crow in the film.
Sowcar Janaki She has a voice that everybody loved, say most people who know Sowcar Janaki. The name Sowcar is a variation of Shavukaru, a 1950 film directed by LV Prasad. Janaki played the leading role in the film with NT Rama Rao.
Tennis Krishna This Kannada comedian and actor used to be a tennis coach before he entered films.
Kodai Mazhai Vidya The Tamil actress, whose real name is Sunita, made her debut through the film Kodai Mazhai (1986).