Simbu? Silambarasan? STR?

The past week’s controversy has brought several celebrities to the fore. Whenever that happens, somewhere in some media room, there’re serious debates about… spellings.

When you have made for yourself a career writing about cinema, you are always trying to keep up with the goings-on in the industry. Yes, you know that we binge-watch films. You know that we have regular conversations with the cast and crew of films. Yes, you even know that we are among the earliest to learn about the possible collaborations in the offing. What you likely don’t know is that an important part of film writing–and one that’s thoroughly challenging–is keeping tabs on the ever-changing spellings of the who’s who of the industry.

A film writer is a bit like the protagonist of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, who has to carve the spellings of words on her skin, so she can remember them. A film writer is a bit like the protagonist of Ghajini who has to constantly tattoo himself with details that he doesn’t want to forget. That’s why when somebody recently told me that Tamannaah had provided a scathing response to director Suraj’s infamous comments, my first response was to look vaguely lost. I was immediately running the spelling of her name in my head: Tama-NN-AAH. It’s a bit like how when somebody makes a reference to Kajal, the Thuppakki actor, our mind immediately goes, “A-ggggg-arwal”, so we remember that her last name’s spelt ‘Aggarwal’.

ghajini-tamil
“Tamanna is now Tamannaah? How do I erase this tattoo?!”

Unsurprisingly, the most passionate debates in cinema newsrooms are sometimes over these spellings.

“I think we should spell his full name, Silambarasan.”

“No, everybody calls him Simbu. Let’s go with that.”

“Guys, stop the press! He has just sent a press release demanding to be called STR henceforth.”

The names of celebrities are so constantly mutating that even Professor X would struggle to keep up with them. Vishnuvardhan’s brother, Krishna, was called Kreshna for the longest time. R. Parthiepan was Radhakrishnan Parthiban for a while, after shedding his original spelling, R. Parthiban. Every time a reference to actor Suriya is made, my mind goes, “Sur-ee-ya”, so I don’t forget the ‘i’ in the middle of Surya. It’s similar to how every time a reference to K. Bhagyaraj’s son is made, we remember that it’s not spelled Shantanu, like the great Mahabharata king, but ‘Shantnu’ with the vowel getting amputated. Any experienced cinema writer is one who has borne the brunt of furious actors raging over their spellings gone wrong: at an additional ‘A’ missed, at a ‘H’ not removed.

“You should have checked with me!”

“But, but… we didn’t realise that you’ve knocked off all the vowels from your name!”

08a
“WHY DID YOU NOT SPELL MY NAME WITH FOUR ADDITIONAL H’S AND FIVE ADDITIONAL E’S?”

Vowels are the numerologist’s favourite victims. Devgan became Devgn. Kangana became Kangna. In some cases, one vowel gets replaced with another: like in the case of Jiiva. In a sense, you could make the case that we, film writers, know more about actors than their closest friends, who likely aren’t keenly following the exciting changes occurring in the spellings of their names. That’s how we know it’s Ilaiyaraaja, not Ilayaraja; S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, not S.P. Balasubramaniam; Arvind Swami, not Arvind Swamy; and Prabhu Dheva, not Prabhu Deva. You’re welcome for this life-changing lesson.

But even given how utterly unsurprised many of us are about the odd spellings celebrities constantly come up with, once in a while there comes a spelling like no other to rattle the steeliest of us. The Baahubali of celebrity names. And who else but TR should come up with a spelling that requires undiluted focus and dedication from every film writer, so they don’t get it wrong in their copies. Perhaps a cinema spelling bee contest would be quite something. That clever girl who won an American spelling bee by casually spelling the word ‘Zwetschenwasser’ right will finally meet her match, when we ask her to spell ‘T. Rajhendherr’.

This column was written for The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share it.

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