Prithviraj was born on November 3, 1906 at Samundri,British India near the town of Lyallpur (now known as Faisalabad) in Punjab to a middle-class family belonging to the Khatri caste of Hindus.
Prithviraj could speak Punjabi, Hindi, Hindko, and Pashto.
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 Edwardes College, Peshawar, British India and joined a one year program in Law to become a Lawyer.
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.
Prithviraj did his B.A. 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. In 1928, with the help of a loan from his aunt, Prithviraj moved to the city of Bombay (present-day Mumbai) which is the switch of the Hindi film industry.
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 fine actor on both stage and screen.
By 1944, Prithviraj had the wherewithal and standing to found his own theatre group, its premiere performance was, Kalidasa’s “Shakuntala” in 1944. 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 Theatre, 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 single show.
In 1995, 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 a 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.
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.
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).
In 1954, he was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship, and in 1969, the Padma Bhushan by the government of India. He remained Nominated Rajya Sabha Member for eight years.
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 Indian cinema.
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-granddaughters, being the granddaughters of his eldest son Raj Kapoor.
His great-grandson Ranbir Kapoor, son of Rishi Kapoor, the fourth generation of leading heroes, recently made his debut in the Hindi film Saawariya.
At age 18, Prithviraj married the 15-year-old Ramsarni Mehra, in a match that was arranged by their families.
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.
After his retirement, Prithviraj settled in Bombay, in a cottage near Juhu beach. The property was later to be 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 May 29, 1972 and was followed by his wife of 63 years on June 14th the same year.
by Sampurn Wire