Skip to main content

The etymology of Tamil movies demystified

What's in a name? The lines that appear in Shakespeare's ever-immortal love classic, Romeo and Juliet, definitely mean a lot to the film producing community from Kodambakkam, who know that on many an occasion, it is the film's title that can pull in the crowds, or can at least be their lone saving grace. Piracy, escalating budgets, intervention from the so-called 'protectionists' of Tamil culture and undue attention on the attire of the leading lady in the movie form just the tip of the iceberg of the issues that producers may need to invest time than just making the movie (with the last two factors being synonymous with one another).
Hence, I take the liberty of suggesting a few guidelines to such beleaguered entertainment inducers to help them arrive at suitable movie titles.

Guideline no 1: Adapt the protagonist's name as the movie title
Perhaps the easiest method to name a movie, this technique is also the most common practice in vogue. Examples for this are available dime a dozen. Beginning with MGR’s Vikramadhithyan, ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan’s Manohara or Veerapandiya Kattabomman, to Kamalhaasan’s Satya or Singaravelan or Rajinikanth’s Pandiyan, Muthu, Veera, Padaiyappa and Sivaji or Vijaykanth’s Captain Prabhakaran or Ramana, producers once employed this technique to rake in the moolah by the tonne (and continue to do so with mixed results). This does not mean that this technique is completely free of discrepancies, as would the producers of the spy-thriller dud Kandhaswamy or Kollywood’s cross breed between MI and James Bond flicks to name a few, Narasimha, which met with bankruptcy at the BO, attest to.

Guideline no 2: Name your movie after a ferocious animal
An eloquent method this, the reasons for it being favoured by many are:

One, the title tends to convey a feeling of panache (Remember the iconic Rajini blockbusters Murattu Kalai and Paayum Puli?). A movie named after a carnivore gives the viewer the impression that an action (read as comprising innumerable implausible fight sequences where the hero emerges triumphant) potboiler awaits them. Surya’s recent release Singam (lion), Vijay’s latest addition to his list of cinematic failures, which even his die-hard fan might cast aspersions before sitting through its screening, Sura (shark), and even Tollywood’s recent production, Puli (tiger), swear by this dictum.
As with its predecessor, this method, too, is replete with failures, with Ramarajan’s Seeri varum kaalai (The raging bull), in what was touted to be his comeback movie, Simbu’s Kaalai (it must be agreed that the bull’s contribution as a muse to movie titles is immense!), and the not so recent movie, Naaikutty (puppy) being shining examples.
Two, the awe-inspiring attributes of the animal get attached to the movie’s hero, giving him the larger-than-screen image, a must for most actors if their movies are to even break even, leave alone completing a 50-day run in theatres.
Three, chances of the movie running into a controversy with self-proclaimed linguists or protectionists of Tamil culture are negligible if, for instance, your movie is titled Keeri (the mongoose) than, say, Hello Mister. The reason being an English title, according to such persons, leads to the inevitable decay of Tamil tradition and culture than a movie that parades its heroine(s) in itsy-bitsy costumes and has its script laced with double-entendres!

Guideline no 3: Seek ‘inspiration’ from the past
When the entire plot of a movie can be lifted straightaway and packaged again with a newer cast, can plagiarism of movie titles be far behind?
Examples here as easily available as the pirated DVD/VCD of the movie peddled on our streets.
Should we begin with the titles of Rajinikanth’s yesteryear flicks that have resurrected Dhanush’s (his son-in-law) once tattered cinematic career – Polladhavan and Padikkadhavan - or the one that did the same to Karthi, Surya’s sibling, Naan Mahaan Alla, or Lawrence Ragavender’s mind-numbing take on the yesteryear hit Rajathi Raja? Titles of MGR’s movies - Kollywood's hero of the masses until the 80's, that have been recycled – Aayirathil Oruvan, Vettaikkaran, Anbe Vaa, or the yet to be released Kaavalkaaran. The cognomina of jubilee hits of ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan, including Uthamaputhiran, Bale Pandiya, Thiruvilayaadal and Anbe Aaruyire, either failed to make an impact in the box-office, or were mostly in the news for the wrong reasons. Ditto with other yesteryear hits such as Ninaithale Inikkum, Nayagan, Nootrukku Nooru and the much-hyped Namitha flick during Diwali last, Jaganmohini. Hence, this underlines the fact that movie titles of the fab-four of Tamil cinema, MGR, Shivaji, Rajini and Kamal, are among the most sought after for adaptation and can by themselves guarantee only fleeting success.
Alternately, lines from songs from such successful movies can be selected for titling a movie if the producer wants to save on unwanted attention.

Guideline no 4: Name your movie after a town in Tamil Nadu
A long-lost method to name a movie, a director by name Perarasu is to be credited (or vilified) for its resurrection. Reason: his movies, Thirupachi, Sivakasi, Palani, Thiruvannamalai and Dharmapuri, to name a few, are all named after towns in Tamil Nadu. Critics may point out that this method is rather defensive, for the title is suggestive of where the movie can possibly have a good run. Therefore, it makes sense that your movie is named after bigger cities in the state and not after towns whose names induce gags like Namakkal or Paramakkudi!
Glossary: Other examples in this regard include Madhiya Chennai, Tirunelveli, Madura and Malaikottai.

Guideline no 5: When nothing else works, turn to god
Taking a leaf out of US currency notes that bear the words, “In god we trust”, Kollywood’s fraternity hit upon the ultimate mélange for a movie theme – hero worship tempered with divinity, which eventually was beaten to death. Tamil Nadu’s original superstar, M K Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, whose “Bhagavathar crop” was a hit with the Gen-X of the 40’s and 50’s, employed this method to the hilt to deliver a string of silver-jubilee hits such as Haridas and Sivakavi (Fans of Rajnikanth who brag about 100 or 200 day runs of his movies at the BO, take note), before his rather unceremonious exit from the industry. It can be said that Sivaji Ganesan was the next to obtain the baton of divinity, by delivering a slew of Hindu mythology-inspired hits – Thiruvilayaadal, his watershed blockbuster in Eastman Colour, Kandan Karunai, Saraswathiyin Sabadham and Karnan. Mythology flick director Ram Narain gave the much needed twist to this genre by introducing animals as vital characters in his movies. Suddenly, the demand for on-screen cows, goats, monkeys, dogs and even elephants increased drastically, and it seemed for a while that humans as actors may not needed at all! Let us thank god that he had to flog this theme, leading to its eventual disillusionment.
Thiruvilayaadal saw Sivaji reprising the role of the destroyer of the divine trinity of Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva, and the movie till date continues to draw in the crowds whenever it is screened. Dealers of camphor, coconuts and arathi plates must probably be offering their obeisance to Lord Shiva even in their dreams due to the brisk business they do in front of such theatres than at the markets or temples. Enough said.
Ergo, this method has little to offer for filmmakers, unless the release of the movie is timed along with a religious festival or an observance of a ritual.

Guideline no 6: Follow the TR ‘rhyme’ way!

If at all there is a contender for the title of “Impresario of Tamil Nadu”, it has to be T Rajender, Kollywood’s one-man ace director, producer, actor, music composer, editor, screenplay writer (and possibly, even the audience!). Superstar Rajinikanth may hold sway over the teeming masses, however, movie DVDs and CDs of TR, as he is popularly known, continue to do brisk business. Beginning from Thaai thangai paasam, Oru thalai ragam to Mythili ennai kaathali, Kaadhal azhivathillai and the gag-a-minute Veerasaamy, films of India’s veritable limerick man blend a form of poetry that borders on irrelevance, leaving even the stone-hearted in splits. It remains to be seen whether an ensemble of veteran Tamil film comedians - Nagesh, Chandrababu, Balaiyya and V K Ramaswamy - would have withstood the humorous onslaught of TR. His movies ensure that you have tummy ache in what can be called a laughter marathon, for such is the absurdity of aspect in them. Any comedy/satire/parody show in TN will be incomplete without a generous swipe at this misguided genius of a filmmaker, amply exemplified by the enormity of suggestions that appear when the word “TR” is merely typed on the Google or YouTube toolbar.
MTV may have made waves in 1993 by creating the character Quick Gun Murugan, however, had they turned to this bearded film personality for inspiration, they could have probably shot TRP ratings into the upper echelons of the stratosphere with utmost ease!
Those desiring humorous titles for their movies only need to frame a title that ends in a rhyme. The rest, as they say, will be history!

Popular posts from this blog

Chennai’s Fourth Estate at War

Touching upon competitive spirit, the legendary writer George Orwell, in an essay dated 1945, had described sport as war minus the shooting. He could very well be referring to the ongoing veiled battle between two of India's English dailies.

When “India’s national newspaper since 1878” and the “Largest read English daily in the world” decide to slug it out over Chennai’s newspaper readership, rest assured that the battle would spill over to the TV media, as was witnessed recently. Cheeky indeed were the ads that thumbed the nose at one another; though, few were in doubt over who the target was.

To the uninitiated, the two newspapers – The Hindu and The Times of India(TOI), respectively – have modus operandi that are as identical as chalk is to cheese, or uppu (salt) is to upma, a South Indian snack. The "war" in question is the race to get hold of the average Chennaiite, and eventually the Indian, newspaper reader’s attention.

And no, this piece of opinion isn’t about the…

7am arivu: Chennai-China Medley Falls Flat

Should ever a book titled ‘The Art of Deception by Flattery’ be authored, A R Murugadoss’ 7 am arivu (the seventh sense) would probably rank atop in its index; it could even be a case study on how to crash land viewers’ expectations after building it up to a crescendo.
The movie begins with a flashback, when we are told that a Pallava princeling (Surya) migrated to China and became the Shaolin master we know today as Bodhidharma. 
Cut to the present. Subha Srinivasan (Shruti Hasan – actor Kamal Hasan’s daughter making her Tamil debut) is a student of genetic engineering whose research causes the jitters to the People’s Republic of China, forcing them to send a spy, Dong Lee (Hollywood actor Johnny Nguyen, who was also a stunt double in Spiderman and Spiderman-2) to bump her off and spread an epidemic in India. (Are we taking a cue from Hollywood, which during the Cold War era vilified then USSR?) Thrown in the conundrum is Aravind (Surya again) a circus artiste, who falls head-over-hee…

Tamil Nadu’s Thala-Thalapathy conundrum