About Prithviraj Kapoor
Prithviraj Kapoor (3 November 1906 - 29 May 1972) was a noted pioneer
of Indian theatre and of the Hindi film industry. He was also the
patriarch of the Kapoor family of Hindi films, five generations of
which family, beginning with him, have played active roles in
Prithviraj was born on November 3, 1902 at Samundri
near the town of Lyallpur in the Punjab to a middle-class family
belonging to the Khatri caste of Hindus.Prithviraj could speak both
Hindi and Hindko.His father, Dewan Basheswarnath Kapoor, was a
sub-inspector of police. Prithviraj received his initial education at
Lyallpur and at Lahore.
His paternal grandfather, Dewan
Keshavmal, was a powerful influence during his childhood. Baseshwarnath
was posted at Peshawar, and so Prithviraj received his higher education
at the Edward College, Peshawar, India.
It was here that his
talents on stage first received expression. Prithviraj's son Shammi
recollects that Prof. Jai Dayal, a member of the faculty, was
instrumental in nurturing his talent.
The Indian professor was in
love with an English lady by name Nora Richard, who in turn was a
theatre aficionado with a passion for Shakespeare and Ibsen. The couple
found Prithviraj the perfect material for many roles in the plays they
mounted. This was his grounding in the art of the theatre.
graduated from Edward college, Peshawar, a feat that few of his
descendants were destined to match. He also studied law as a graduate
student for one year, but his heart was in the theatre.
1928, with the help of a loan from his aunt, Prithviraj moved to the
city of Bombay (present-day Mumbai) which is the hub of the Hindi film
industry.After featuring in a couple of forgettable silent films,
Kapoor did a supporting role in India's first film talkie, "Alam Ara"
His performance in "Vidyapati" (1937) was much
appreciated. His best-known performance is perhaps as "Alexander the
Great" in Sohrab Modi's "Sikander" (1941). Through all these years
Prithviraj remained devoted to the theatre and performed on stage
regularly. He developed a reputation as a fine actor on both stage and
By 1944, Prithviraj had the wherewithal and standing to
found his own theatre group. His eldest son, Raj Kapoor, had already
struck out on his own; the films he produced had been successful and
this was also an enabling factor.
Prithviraj invested in and
founded "Prithvi Theatres", a travelling troupe which staged memorable
productions across India. In over 16 years of existence, the theater
staged some 2,662 shows. Prithviraj starred as the lead actor in every
By the late 1950's, it was clear that the era of
the travelling theatre was past; that art-form had been irreversibly
supplanted by the cinema. No longer was it financially feasible for a
troupe of up to 80 people (as Prithvi theatre was) to travel the
country for four to six months at a time with their tons of stage props
and equipment, living in hotels where possible and at campsites
otherwise. The financial returns, through ticket sales and the rapidly
diminishing largesse of patrons from the erstwhile princely class of
India, was just not adequate to support such an effort.
the fine actors and technicians that Prithvi Theatres nurtured had
found their way to the movies. Indeed, this was the case with all of
Prithviraj's own sons. As Prithviraj progressed into his 50's, he
gradually ceased theatre activities and accepted occasional offers from
film-makers, including his own sons.
His notable filmography of
this period includes "Mughal E Azam" (1960) where he gave his most
memorable performance as the mughal emperor Akbar,"Harishchandra
Taramati" (1963) where he played the lead role and unforgettable
performances as "Porus" in Sikandar-e-Azam (1965) and the stentorian
grandfather in "Kal Aaj Aur Kal" (1971) where he appeared with his son
and grandson Randhir Kapoor.
In 1969, Prithviraj was awarded the
Padma Bhushan by the government of India. After his death in 1972, he
was posthumously awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for the year 1971.
He was the third recipient of that award, the highest accolade in
Prithviraj Kapoor's descendants have contributed
richly to the Hindi film industry and he is thus reckoned the patriarch
of the 'first family of Hindi films.' All three of his sons became
noted actors and film-makers and two of his daughters-in-law worked in
the same field. Nearly all his grandchildren, including Randhir Kapoor,
Rishi Kapoor, Rajiv Kapoor, Karan Kapoor, Kunal Kapoor, and
granddaughter Sanjana Kapoor have worked in the field of films, either
as actors or film-makers or both.
Karisma Kapoor and Kareena
Kapoor, two of the top film-stars of today, are Prithviraj's
great-grand-daughters, being the grand-daughters of his eldest son Raj
As was customary in that era, Prithviraj married at a
young age. At age 18, Prithviraj married the 15-year-old Ramsarni
Mehra, in a match that was arranged by their families. Their eldest
child, Raj Kapoor, was born in December 1924. By the time Prithviraj
moved to Bombay in 1928, the couple were the parents of three children.
In 1930, Ramsarni joined Prithviraj in Bombay. The following year,
while she was pregnant for the fourth time, the couple suffered the
tragic loss of two of their three children in the space of one week.One
of their children, Devi, died of double pneumonia while the other
child, Nandi, died of poisoning in a freak incident when he swallowed
some rat-poison pills strewn in the garden.
The couple went on to
have four children further. All three of their surviving sons, Raj
Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor, were to become famous actors
and film-makers in their own right. They also had one daughter, Urmila.
his retirement, Prithviraj settled in Bombay, in a cottage near Juhu
beach. The property was later to be convered into a small, experimental
theatre, the Prithvi Theatre. Both Prithviraj and Ramsarni suffered
from cancer in their declining years and died within a fortnight of
each other. Prithviraj died on May 29, 1972 and was followed by his
wife of 64 years on June 14th the same year.
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