The Telugu World Column No: 24
Chota Bheem, Bada Success
Last week Neeli Bendapudi was mentioned in this column and many were intrigued at the name. It is normal for Indian names to be shortened in the USA and Europe as many of them are tongue-twisters for Western people. In the English-speaking countries there are accepted short names like Bill for William and Bob for Robert, but India has no such system. In US Siddarth becomes Sid and Sudarshan is called Sud. Similarly Rajsekhar or Rajagopal becomes Raj, Neelima becomes Neeli (ending with ‘I’ or ‘a’ indicates it is feminine) and Neelkanth is Nilu.
While in India most Telugu people abbreviate their surnames into initials, the system in entire North India as well as in Western countries is to be called by surname and all Telugu people settled abroad have to be called by their surnames or caste names like Reddy or Sastri or Sharma. The son of a Marathi man called Mavlankar will also be Mavlankar but with different initials, the second initial being the father’s name reduced to one letter. Different systems prevail in different linguistic communities and it is only now that many follow the uniform north Indian system of using surnames in full, but many still use the caste-indicative names as they are easy on the tongue.
All this is being mentioned because it is impossible for one person to know all great Telugus in India and abroad. Some Internet search is needed. In the list of important Indians abroad names that sound as those of Telugus are picked, but many south Indians have common first names. Even going by surnames, a Rao or Reddy may turn out to be a Kannadiga. Also in the US, as it is a nation of immigrants, the country of origin or community – whether Jewish, Italian, Irish or Hispanic (Latin American) can be made out from the surnames. Sometimes community does matter in voting and for marriages but vote bank politics and stigma for marrying outside the community are rare.
Continuing the theme of eminent Telugus settled abroad Dr Dwaram Bap Reddy may not be known in the Telugu states even as much as the least popular actor but he was an eminent entomologist named by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as a Director. The Plant Protection Association of India has instituted the ‘Dr. D. Bap Reddy National Award for Integrated Pest Management’, the highest in the field, presented once in two years. Reddy went to the USA in 1946 and got a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. He was elected President of the Hindustan Students Association of the University. Later he was Director of FAO’s Regional Office for Asia and Pacific at Bangkok from 1978 to 1982 and was one of the world’s top entomologists.
While the dream of most Telugu youth who studied in the US is to work and settle there, some have come back to achieve resounding success in India, like Rajiv Chilaka aka Rajiv Chilakalapudi or Chilakalapudi Sitarama Rajiv. Rajiv Chilaka returned to Hyderabad to launch Green Gold Animations as its CEO and created the biggest brand of recent years, Chhota Bheem and Krishna cartoon series, now made into animated films.
Rajiv Chilaka went to Hyderabad Public School, Ramnathpur, and earned a BE in Telecommunications Engineering (1995) from Osmania University. He then went to the University of Missouri in Kansas City for his master’s degree in Computer Science. He was a software engineer in Kansas for three years. However, in 2000 he switched over to study animation at the Academy of Art University at San Francisco. The youngest son of a technocrat C. Madhusudan Rao, he was conferred an honorary doctorate by the Academy of Art University in 2016 and the Alumni Achievement Award of the Kansas University School of Computing and Engineering in 2013. Even when we see characters like He Man, Spider Man and Superman in English films and videos performing super-human tasks, it never occured to Indians for years that there were many such characters, like Bheem, Krishna and Hanuman, in Indian mythology that could be similarly immortalized. In 2008 a software engineer from a Telugu state, Rajiv Chilaka, thought of it and it was a resounding success. Green Gold became the highest earning animator and also used the brand to market other products.
The feature film Chhota Bheem and the Curse of Damyaan is considered to be the first Indian home-grown TV series to be made into a feature film. The Chota Bheem series’ popularity with children all over India is legendary. It is addictive for children. It is telecast in several languages including Telugu and one channel, facing closure, Pogo, survived because of it. Now the Atlanta-based CNN (Cable News Network) also broadcasts some related series.