Born On: November 3, 1906
Born In: Lyallpur, Punjab
Died On: May 29, 1972
The young, dashing, and handsome son of a young cop from then Punjab, British India ran to Mumbai to pursue his career in Bollywood. He is today remembered as one of the most celebrated actors in the Indian film industry - Prithviraj Kapoor. Needless to say, his sharp wit and talented features sought him his way to Indian cinema in pre-independent India. However, he did not taste exemplary success though he managed to give some outstanding miniscule roles for which he is still remembered. Prithviraj was a person, who began his career in the silent era of Indian cinema, but eventually grew to spread over Bollywood and managed to establish his own theatre sets under the name Prithvi Theatres. Interestingly, he is the founder of India's first film family - the Kapoors, who has given five generations of actors in Hindi film industry.
Prithviraj Kapoor was born in a middle-class Hindu Punjabi Khatri family in Samundri, near the town of Lyallpur (now Faisalabad in Pakistan) in Punjab in British India. His father was Dewan Basheswarnath Singh Kapoor, a sub-inspector in the police. Prithviraj attained his formal education at Khalsa College in Lyallpur and Lahore. He received his higher education at Edwardes College, Peshawar, Pakistan, since his father was posted to Peshawar during those years. He later enrolled himself in the one-year program in law to become a lawyer, though he was till keen to becoming an actor.
With some borrowed money from his aunt, Prithviraj moved to Mumbai in 1928 to get a taste of the Hindi film industry. He managed to grab the role of an extra in his first movie and graduated to play the lead in his third silent film "Cinema Girl" in 1929. After struggling in nine silent films, Prithviraj played a supporting role in the first ever talking film "Alam Ara" in 1931. Since the movie did not fare well, he started playing minuscule roles in any film that came across him. Some of his much-appreciated performances include those in "Rajrani Meera", "Seeta", "Manzil", "President", "Vidyapati", "Pagal", and "Sikandar". He is remembered for his role of Alexander the Great in Sohrab Modi's "Sikandar".
Meanwhile, Prithviraj continued performing on stage as his first love. Eventually, he turned out to be a fine actor on stage as well as screen. After tasting enough on-and-off success at the silver screen, Prithviraj founded his own theatre group as Prithvi Theatre in 1944. The theatre delivered some 2,662 shows in over 16 years of its existence, with Prithviraj playing the lead role in every single show, touring throughout India for 4 to 6 months at a time. However, in the late 1950s, the era of theatre started deteriorating and gradually, most of the 80 theatre actors and technicians were absorbed in the film industry. This included Prithviraj's own sons who created a distinguished niche for themselves on screen.
Though Prithviraj began concentrating on his theatre performances and business, he did handle some eminent roles in the Hindi film industry. Some of his most unforgettable performances include his roles in "Mughal E Azam", "Harishchandra Taramati", "Sikandar-e-Azam", and "Kal Aaj Aur Kal". He has even acted in some legendary Punjabi movies, such as "Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai", "Nanak Dukhiya Sub Sansar", and "Mele Mittran De". He lost his voice while directing the 1954 film "Paisa" and hence, gave up acting in films. With this, the Prithvi Theatre, too, saw a closedown. He was bestowed with the famous Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship in 1954 and Padma Bhushan in 1969. Later, Prithvi Theatre was merged with Shakespeare Company, run by Shashi Kapoor and wife Jennifer Kendal, and revived into "Shakespeareana". With this, the company got a permanent home in Mumbai on November 5, 1978.
Due to the prevalent child marriage system, Prithviraj Kapoor was married off early at the age of 18 in 1924 to Ramsarni Mehra, who was 15 years old at that time. When he moved to Mumbai, the couple already had three children. However, two of the children passed away. The couple, managed to have three more children. Interestingly, all the four children, Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor and Urmila Sial contributed richly to the Hindi film industry, thus reckoning Prithviraj Kapoor as the patriarch of the 'first family of Hindi films'. On retirement, Prithviraj resided in a cottage in Juhu Beach in Bombay.
Both Prithviraj and his wife Ramsarni suffered from cancer in their old age. While Prithviraj died on 29 May 1972, his wife passed away a fortnight later, on June 14.
Post death, Prithviraj was conferred upon with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the highest accolade in Indian cinema for the year 1971. With this, he became the third recipient of this prestigious award in Indian film industry. To mark the golden Jubilee of Prithvi Theatre, India Post issued a special two Rupee postage stamp in 1996, featuring the logo of Prithvi Theatre from 1945-1995. It contained the image of Prithviraj Kapoor, though without his name, as the organization believed that his face was sufficient to recognize the legend.
Prithviraj Kapoor is known to give India its first family of Hindi films. His father, Dewan Basheswarnath Kapoor, a retired sub inspector in Peshawar, was also keen on showing his acting skills. Though he did not get an offer to deliver much, he did a cameo role in his grandson's Raj Kapoor's film "Awaara". With this, the Kapoor family delivered five generations to the Indian cinema world. All the three sons of Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, and Shammi Kapoor became legendary actors, while his two daughter-in-laws also worked in the film industry. Most of his grandchildren, namely, Randhir Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Rajiv Kapoor, Karan Kapoor, Kunal Kapoor, and Sanjana Kapoor have worked as actors or filmmakers or both and attained success. His great-grandchildren Karisma Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor, and Ranbir Kapoor have also made a prominent mark in the same industry.
Cinema Girl (1929)
Alam Ara (1931)
Rajrani Meera (1933)
Adhuri Kahani (1939)
Aankh Ki Sharam (1943)
Anand Math (1952)
Chhatrapati Shivaji (1952)
Jahan Ara (1964)
Aasman Mahal (1965)
Daku Mangal Singh (1966)
Teen Bahuraniyan (1968)
Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai (1969)
Heer Raanjha (1970)
Kal Aaj Aur Kal (1971)
Sakshatkara - (Kannada) (1971)
1906: Prithviraj was born in Lyallpur, Punjab
1924: Married to Ramsarni Mehra
1928: Traveled to Mumbai to pursue a career in acting
1929: 'Cinema Girl' was released
1931: His and India's first talkie film 'Alam Ara' was released
1944: Established Prithvi Theatre
1972: Died from cancer on 29 May
1972: Was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, posthumously
1978: Prithvi Theatre was merged with Shakespeare and re-established as "Shakespeareana"
1996: Prithviraj Kapoor and Prithvi Theate appeared on a two rupee postage stamp to mark Golden Jubilee