Prithviraj Kapoor in 1929
3 November 1901|
Samundri, Punjab (British India)
(now in Punjab, Pakistan)
|Died||29 May 1972
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
|Height||6 feet and 2.5 inches|
|Spouse(s)||Ramsarni "Rama" Mehra (1918–1972)|
Prithviraj Kapoor (3 November 1901 – 29 May 1972) was a pioneer of Indian theatre and of the Hindi film industry, who started his career as an actor, in the silent era of Hindi cinema, associated with IPTA as one of its founding members and who founded the Prithvi Theatres, a travelling theatre company based in Mumbai, in 1944.
He was also the patriarch of the Kapoor family of Hindi films, four generations of which family, beginning with him, have played active roles in Hindi film industry. The Government of India honoured him with the Padma Bhushan in 1969 and the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1971 for his contributions towards Indian cinema.
Early life and education
Kapoor received his initial education at Lyallpur Khalsa College and at Lahore. His paternal grandfather, Dewan Keshavmal, was a powerful influence during his childhood. Kapoor received his higher education at the Edwardes College in Peshawar and joined a two-year program in law to become a lawyer. It was here that his talents on stage first received expression.
Kapoor began acting career in the theatres of Lyallpur and Peshawar. In 1928, he moved to Bombay with the help of a loan from an aunt. There he joined the Imperial Films Company. He acted as an extra in his first film role, though he grew up to get a lead role for his third Cinema Girl in 1929.
After featuring in nine silent films, including Be Dhari Talwar, Sher-e-Arab and Prince Vijaykumar, Kapoor did a supporting role in India's first film talkie, Alam Ara (1931). His performance in Vidyapati (1937) was much appreciated. His best-known performance is perhaps as Alexander the Great in Sohrab Modi's Sikandar (1941). He also joined the Grant Anderson Theater Company, an English theatrical company that remained in Bombay for a year. Through all these years, Kapoor remained devoted to the theatre and performed on stage regularly. He developed a reputation as a very fine and versatile actor on both stage and screen.
By 1944, Kapoor had the wherewithal and standing to found his own theatre group, Prithvi Theatres, whose première performance was, Kalidasa's "Shakuntala" in 1942. His eldest son, Raj Kapoor, by 1946, had already struck out on his own; the films he produced had been successful and this was also an enabling factor. Prithviraj Kapoor invested in and founded Prithvi Theatres, a travelling troupe which staged memorable productions across India. The plays were highly influential and inspired young people to participate in the Indian independence movement and the Quit India Movement. In over 16 years of existence, the theatre staged some 2,662 performances. Prithviraj starred as the lead actor in every single show. One of his popular plays was called Pathan (1947), which was performed on stage nearly 600 times in Mumbai. It opened on April 13, 1947, and is a story of a Muslim and his Hindu friend.
By the late 1950s, it was clear that the era of the travelling theatre had been irreversibly supplanted by the cinema and it was no longer financially feasible for a troupe of up to 80 people to travel the country for four to six months at a time along with their props and equipment and living in hotels and campsites. The financial returns, through ticket sales and the rapidly diminishing largesse of patrons from the erstwhile princely class of India, was not enough to support such an effort. Many of 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 Kapoor progressed into his 50s, he gradually ceased theatre activities and accepted occasional offers from film-makers, including his own sons. He appeared with his son Raj in the 1951 film Awara as a stern judge who had thrown his own wife out of his house. Later, under his son, Shashi Kapoor, and his wife Jennifer Kendal, Prithvi Theater merged with the Indian Shakespeare theatre company, "Shakespeareana", and the company got a permanent home, with the inauguration of the "Prithvi Theatre" in Mumbai on 5 November 1978.
In 1996, the 'Golden Jubilee year' of the founding of Prithvi Theatre, India Post, issued a special two Rupee, 'commemorative' postage stamp in New Delhi, it featured the logo of Prithvi Theatre 1945–1995, and an image its founder 'Prithviraj Kapoor', without the name, as just his face seemed enough, being the legend that he had become in his lifetime and beyond in Hindi theatre. The first day cover, (stamped 15-1-95) showed an illustration of performance of travelling theatre in progress, on a stage that seem fit for a travelling theatre, as Prithvi theatre was for sixteen, till 1960. On the occasion of 100 years of the Indian cinema, another postage stamp, bearing his face, was released by India Post on 3 May 2013.
His 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.
Kapoor starred in the legendary religious Punjabi film Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai (1969), a film so revered in Punjab that there were lines many kilometres long to purchase tickets.
He also starred in the Punjabi films Nanak Dukhiya Sub Sansar (1970) and Mele Mittran De (1972).
Stint as a Rajya Sabha member
Kapoor was not only a great film personality, he was also a dedicated social worker. He collected money for Hindu and Sikh refugees who came from West Punjab and East Bengal who fled to India in 1947, but when right-wing Hindus wanted revenge from Muslims and threatened to drive them out of India, Kapoor campaigned strictly and vigorously against it in the best traditions of Gandhian humanism. As a nominated member of the Indian upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha, Prithviraj pioneered a bill for the abolition of the Death Penalty and Food safety.
In an interview, his youngest son, Shashi stated that, Though Papaji was a close friend of Panditji, he never took undue advantage of their friendship to gain Governmental favours for the furtherance of his theatre. He himself supported his practical dream financially as well as with full spirit and confidence in himself and his students.
He also donated money for the victims of the 1943 Bengal Famine by doing many plays, and donating the money earned from those plays for the needy in Bengal, and the nearby area. He was chosen by the then Prime Minister Pandit Nehru twice to go to China for the Indo-China peace-making programme.
Prithviraj Kapoor became a Godfather for hundreds of people he came across who needed help financially or psychologically. He himself worked for them and did odd jobs for the poor. In Calcutta, a story goes that once Prithviraj Kapoor saw a very old man sweeping the street, and he was being beaten with a 'beint' (local name for a leather strap in Hindi) by a British Municipal officer. Prithviraj was helpless, and after that day, as long as he lived in Calcutta, he swept the street for the old man.
It is famously known that Kapoor was the highest paid actor in the 1940s till the mid-1950s, he was paid Rs. 111,110. But, it is a lesser known fact that he donated half of the salary to the needy, and kept the other half with himself, and invested in theatre.
Awards and honours
- 1949– President's Medal
- 1954– Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship by the Sangeet Natak Akademi
- 1956– Sangeet Natak Akademi Award by the Sangeet Natak Akademi
- 1969– Padma Bhushan by the Government of India
- 1972– Dadasaheb Phalke Award (Posthumously) for the year 1971, for his immense contribution to Indian theatre and cinema
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (October 2011)|
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 Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, and Shashi Kapoor 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 are Prithviraj's great-granddaughters, being the granddaughters of his eldest son Raj Kapoor. His great-grandson Ranbir Kapoor, son of Rishi Kapoor, made his debut in the Hindi film Saawariya in 2007.
As was customary in that era, Prithviraj Kapoor married at a young age. At the age of 17, Kapoor married the 14-year-old Ramsarni Mehra, in a match that was arranged by their families, in 1918. Their eldest child, Raj Kapoor, was born in December 1924. By the time Prithviraj Kapoor moved to Mumbai in 1927, the couple were the parents of three children. In 1930, Ramsarni joined Prithviraj in Mumbai. 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.
He had an athletic built, and was 6' 2.5". His British friends at Edwards College nicknamed him 'Kappie', as he was the captain of the college's cricket team. He loved to play cricket, hockey and football, and was a keen athlete.
He always carried a hockey stick and a violin wherever he travelled.
The couple went on to have three children further. Sons, Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor, were to become famous actors and filmmakers in their own right. They also had one daughter, Urmila Sial.
After his retirement, Prithviraj Kapoor settled in Mumbai, in a cottage called Prithvi Jhonpra near Juhu beach. The property was on lease, which was bought by Shashi Kapoor, and later converted 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 Kapoor died on 29 May 1972 and was followed by his wife on 14 June.
Almost all of his students at Prithvi Theatre became famous under his fatherly guidance and love; namely, his sons Raj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, actors Sajjan, Premnath, Rajendranath, Ravindra Kapoor, Kamal Kapoor, Zohra Sehgal, Sudesh Kumar, Ramesh Saigal, Mohan Saigal, directors and producers L. V. Prasad, Ramanand Sagar, playback singer Mohammed Rafi, Music Directors Ram Ganguly, Sardar Mullick (Anu Mullick's father), Shankar-Jaikishen, Ramlal, Dance Directors Satyanaryan, Suresh Bhatt and writers Inder Raj Anand and Prayag Raaj. He is also credited to have discovered Hasrat Jaipuri, who went on to become a celebrated lyricist in Hindi cinema.
Prithviraj Kapoor was taken to the reputed Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York by his sons Raj, Shammi and Shashi in August 1971 for 2 months. But the treatment was unsuccessful. He succumbed to Hodgkin's Lymphoma on 29 May 1972, at the age of 70.
He left behind an entire life dedicated to theatre and cinema, a life spent in doing welfare for the needy, and serving as a Rajya Sabha member for 8 long years. He died in the Tata Memorial Centre at 2:20pm.
- Alam Ara (1931)
- Seeta (1934)
- Vidyapati (1937)
- Sikandar (1941)
- Ishara (1943)
- Awaara (1951)
- Anand Math (1952)
- Chhatrapati Shivaji (1953)
- Mughal-e-Azam (1960)
- Zindagi (1964)
- Janwar (1965)
- Sikandar-e-Azam (1965)
- Daku Mangal Singh (1966)
- Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai (1969)
- Heer Raanjha (1970)
- Kal Aaj Aur Kal (1971)
- Sakshatkara – (Kannada) (1971)
- Shashi Kapoor presents the Prithviwallahs, by Shashi Kapoor, Deepa Gahlot, Prithvi Theatre (Mumbai, India). Roli Books, 2004. ISBN 81-7436-348-3.
- The Kapoors: the first family of Indian cinema, by Madhu Jain. Penguin, Viking, 2005. ISBN 0-670-05837-8.
- Prithviraj Kapoor Resource page and photo gallery
- "Prithviraj Kapoor". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
- Kissing the firmament with Prithvi Theatre The Hindu 22 November 2004.
- Tribute to Prithvi Raj Kapoor (1901–1972) International Film Festival of India website.
- Prithviraj's biography at the IMDB
- Dandavate, Madhu (2004). Dialogue with Life. India: Allied Publishers. p. 48. ISBN 8-1776-4856-X. Retrieved 20 July 2013. "Prithviraj Kapoor represented the mental make-up of Pathans of North-West Frontier Province through another play called Pathan."
- Khan, Abdul Jamil (2006). Urdu/Hindi: An Artificial Divide : African Heritage, Mesopotamian Roots, Indian Culture & Britiah Colonialism. Algora Publishing. p. 319. ISBN 0-8758-6438-4. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
- India: Prithvi Theatre
- Prithvi Theatre Stamp India Post.
- Genes and Genius The Book I Won't be Writing and Other Essays, by H. Y. Sharada Prasad, Orient Longman, 2003. ISBN 81-8028-002-0. Page 300.
- "India Post honours 50 iconic film personalities". May 4, 2013. Fundoofun.com. Retrieved December 7, 2013.
- Ramsarni Devi Kapoor
- Chatterjee, ed. board Gulzar, Govind Nuhalani, Saibal (2003). Encyclopaedia of Hindi cinema. New Delhi: Encyclopaedia Britannica. pp. 66, 40. ISBN 978-81-7991-066-5.
- Prithviraj Kapoor at the Internet Movie Database
- Prithviraj, My father by Shamsherraj (Shammi) Kapoor
- Detailed biography of Prithviraj Kapoor
- Peshawarites still remember the Kapoor family
- Prithviraj Kapoor @ SPICE