Prithviraj Kapoor in 1929
3 November 1901|
Lyallpur, Punjab, British India
(now Faisalabad, Punjab, Pakistan)
|Died||29 May 1972(aged 70)|
|Height||6 feet and 2.5 inches|
|Spouse(s)||Ramsarni "Rama" Mehra (1918–1972)|
Prithviraj Kapoor (Punjabi:ਪ੍ਰਿਥਵੀਰਾਜ ਕਪੂਰ , Hindi:पृथ्वीराज कपूर, Pṛithvīrāj Kapūr), 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 1942.
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 
Prithviraj was born on November 3, 1901 at Samundri near the town of Lyallpur, Punjab (currently Faisalabad, Pakistan), then under British colonial rule. Prithviraj could speak English, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, Gujarati and Hindko.
His father, Dewan Basheswarnath Kapoor, was a sub-inspector of police. Prithviraj received his initial education at Khalsa College 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 Edwardes College, Peshawar, Pakistan and joined a two-year program in Law to become a Lawyer. It was here that his talents on stage first received expression. Prithviraj's son Shammi recollected that Prof. Jai Dayal, a member of the faculty, was instrumental in nurturing his talent. The professor was in love with an English lady by the name of 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. He became a Lawyer, and started practising Law privately.
Prithviraj did his B.A. at Edwardes College, Peshawar, a feat that few of his descendants were destined to match. He also studied law as a graduate student for two years, but his heart was in the theatre. In 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, although he completed his Law, and obtained a degree, and practised Law.
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, 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 only English theatrical company, called "J. Grant Anderson" which remained in India for a year. Through all these years, Prithviraj 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.
Prithvi Theatres 
By 1942, Prithviraj 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 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 Nationalist Movement in India and the Quit India Movement. In over 16 years of existence, the theatre staged some 2,662 shows. Prithviraj starred as the lead actor in every single show.
By the late 1950s, 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. 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 Prithviraj progressed into his 50's, he gradually ceased theatre activities and accepted occasional offers from film-makers, including his own sons.He appeared with his son,Raj Kapoor in Awara (1951)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, it merged with the Indian Shakespeare theatre company, "Shakespeareana", and the company got a permanent home, with the inauguration of the "Prithvi Theatre" in Mumbai 5 November 1978.
Postage stamp 
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.
Later years 
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 kilometers 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 
Prithviraj 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, Prithviraj campaigned strictly and vigorously against it in the best traditions of Gandhian humanism. In real life he represented Pathan and Punjabi large-heartedness at its best. 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 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 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 Prithviraj was the highest paid actor in the 1940s till the mid-1950s, he was paid Rs.1,11,110. 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 
Notable Awards 
- 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
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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,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.
Personal life 
As was customary in that era, Prithviraj married at a young age. At the age of 17, Prithviraj 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 moved to Bombay in 1927, 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.
Prithviraj 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 and football, and was a keen athlete.
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 settled in Bombay, 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 died on 29 May 1972 and was followed by his wife on 14 June.
Almost all of Prithviraj's 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.
Prithviraj 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, sadly, the treatment didn't work. Prithviraj succumbed to Hodgkin's Lymphoma on 29 May 1972, at the age of 70, leaving 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 in the afternoon at 2:20pm.
Selected filmography 
- Alam Ara (1931)
- 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)
Further reading 
- Shashi Kapoor presents the Prithviwallahs, by Shashi Kapoor, Deepa Gahlot, Prithvi Theatre (Bombay, 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, My father by Shamsherraj (Shammi) Kapoor
- "Legend of cinema Prithiviraj Kapoor From Lyallpur to Bombay". Network. November 04,2009. p. 1. Retrieved 13 February 2011.
- "Bollywood's First Family". Rediff. Retrieved 2007-09-08.
- Daily Times: Peshawarites still remember the Kapoor family
- 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
- 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.
- 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