Citadel and Spider-Man compel the query ‘What’s in an Indian name?’

The missing ‘g’: Priyanka Chopra Jonas plays Nadia ‘Sinh’, not ‘Singh’, in The Citadel. Photo: Trailer Video Grab.

Two recent Hollywood products make us wonder, once again, why, in 2023 with India going and being where it is, a dash of attention is not paid to names given to Indian characters in series or movies.

Take Citadel, the hyped series from Amazon Prime Video and the Russo brothers. It has Priyanka Chopra Jonas playing an Indian woman named Nadia Sinh. Now why on earth is Sinh written that way rather than as the proper ‘Singh’, which is how it is also pronounced within the show? Why was the ‘g’ so unimportant that it was discarded? Yes, in Hindi, ‘Singh’ is written as ‘Sinh’ with the phonetic small ‘ee’ and a dot on ‘sa’ and a ‘ha’ to follow, and yet pronounced ‘singh’ all over India, including in Hindi!

I have no problems with the first name, Nadia. Although of Russian origin, according to some sources, the name is also used in the Arabic world, India and Europe. But she is shown as the daughter of one Rahi Gambhir. Now Gambhir is a Khatri surname and Rahi is usually an Urdu word that is used by Muslims as a first name!

So unless this is a hybrid screen name (like Sanjay Khan!), it is more than a shade ill-researched, for the character is shown as a terrorist and this is not his alias either! The only defense for using such a name is that it may be catchy, but that will be so, if at all, only in a series for a predominant Indian audience! And the least they could have done here is name Nadia’s father as Rahi Sinh or Gambhir Sinh, though Gambhir is usually a surname.

But methinks Priyanka could have asked for the extra ‘g’ in her second name. And thank heavens (or thank someone in the Citadel team) that her daughter (no spoiler here) is named the simple ‘Asha’!

The next example is of the latest Spider-Man movie: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, in which the Indian Spider-Man is someone called ‘Pavitr Prabhakar’! Now apparently, that is the closest Sony Pictures Entertainment et al could get to Peter Parker, the teenage science whiz who is the American Spider-Man, but for superheroes’ sake, why could not the final letter ‘a’ in Pavitra been maintained, especially as ‘Parker’, a two-syllable word, is now turned into the three-syllable ‘Prabhakar’.

On a lighter note, many in the Hindi belt and Punjab would still pronounce ‘Pavitra’ as ‘Pavit(a)r’ but I am sure the Americans who christened the Indian superhero are not privy to that linguistic anomaly!

As a kid, I would read several books (including one by Enid Blyton) and comics in which Indian names were absurd, and there are even some foreign movies whose names I do not recall, watched in my growing-up years and later, in which such poorly-conceived nomenclature was used.

The most ridiculous by far, which I distinctly remember, was the name ‘Hrundi V. Bakshi’ given to protagonist Peter Sellers in the 1968 comedy, The Party, wherein he was shown as a loser actor and a clumsy young man. Now ‘Hrundi’ as a name does not exist at all and is the product of someone’s over-fertile imagination! Though the film was a huge success in India itself, it also looked down on Indians as misfits in US society and invited criticism of “our brown brothers” by a section of the media there.

For Peter Sellers, it was second time round. In the 1960 romantic comedy, The Millionairess, he played an Indian doctor named Ahmed El Kabir! Now, where in India do we find names with El in between? ‘Al’ can be a middle name in the Arabic world and even in Bangladesh.

I also am told of an Indian character called Apu Nahasapeemapetilon in the TV series, The Simpsons. The second ridiculous name is even supposed to mean ‘bulls**t’ in Sanskrit, as per Google. Now Google itself must ‘google’ to see if Sanskrit had such derogatory terms, or such a long name for the actual animal by-product!!

My question is simple: there is a sizeable Indian population in Hollywood. Why not do some elementary research to lend credence to the Indian names used? And in general, UK and USA both need to do this. How would they like it, for example, if we used names like McDonald Aleksandr (the latter a Russian first name) or Elizabeth Nala (an African girl’s first name) in an Indian book or film for their characters?

I rest my case.








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