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Indian film embraces Tibetan name

July 18, 2011

Tashi, Wangdu: Racial diversity now in films too

NEW DELHI: In the composition of Bollywood heroes, names matter. Salman Khan is generally Prem, Shah Rukh Khan is almost synonymous with Raj/Rahul and, in his prime, Amitabh Bachchan was always Vijay.

But a look at the fresh filmscape indicates that names in Hindi films are getting more geographically democratized. Now the Rajs, Rahuls and Prems have the Tashis and Phonstoks for company.

In 'Delhi Belly', Imran Khan plays a Tibetan named, Tashi Dorjee Lhatoo. Earlier in 3 Idiots, Aamir Khanplayed a Ladakhi, Phonstok Wangdu.

Even Vishal Bhardwaj's Kaminey had a villain named Tashi. Interestingly, none of these characters have any kind of political identity.

Delhi Belly writer Akshat Verma says the character he had in mind was of a Tibetan settled in Delhi. The core team even auditioned Tibetan actors for the role, but eventually settled on Imran when they couldn't find anyone who fitted the bill.

"The population composition of cities like Delhi is mixed. I wanted the film to reflect the new reality that India has embraced in all its shades," says Verma. His next script has a Tibetan protagonist.

Call it a sign of our increasingly cosmopolitan cities or a belated acknowledgement by the formula-driven Hindi film industry, the representation of the racial diversity in popular films, even when played by conventional-looking "heroes", is something to take note of.

"I suppose the writers of today are more inclusive in their approach. I support their inclusiveness," says Delhi Belly's co-producer Aamir Khan.

Lhakpa Tsering, a Tibetan NGO worker settled in Delhi, follows Hindi films with a keen eye.

He even remembers blink-and-miss Tibetan references in Bollywood. He talks about the promotional stills of Ranbir Kapoor's forthcoming 'Rockstar' that show him singing against a backdrop of the Tibetan flag. Tsering also points out that the actor strumming a guitar in the number, Shaam bhi koi jaise hai nadi ('Aisha') has a Tibetan flag sticker on it. "The dancers who gyrate with Kareena Kapoor in the song Yeh Ishq Hai ('Jab We Met') are from Dharamsala'sTibetan Institute of Performing Arts," he says.

Actor Tenzing Nima, who played Tashi in Kaminey, welcomes inclusion of Tibetan names in Hindi films. He believes it helps raise awareness of the region.

"Names like Tashi and Tenzing are pretty popular in north-east India, besides Tibet. It's good to see these names in Hindi films," says Nima, who comes from Uttarakhand.Missing cultural cues and a depoliticised identity could well be the reasons why these new names seem misplaced to some. But Verma says, "I feel in today's time a character need not look like he belongs to a particular place."

Not everyone reacts positively to the development. Delhi-based Tenzin Lobsang is befuddled. "Bollywood is probably bored of old names.

But I thought it was kind of strange that Imran Khan should play a Tashi or Aamir Khan a Phunsukh," he says.Tsering too admits that there's hardly any Tibetan identity to these characters. "I feel Tashi or his parents in Delhi Belly weren't really projected as Tibetan characters. I'm not sure why they used the names. But it's good to hear them and see Tibetan colours in films," he says.

Dharamsala-based web developer Lobsang Gyatso thinks there could be more behind the name.

Says Gyatso, "Tashi is a very auspicious Tibetan name. It means good luck. I don't know if the symbolism in these films was intended."

(With inputs from Bharati Dubey)

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