KOCHI: The first talkie film in India is ‘Alam Ara’ which was released in 1931. Prithviraj Kapoor was the hero of the movie.
A noted pioneer of Indian theatre and of the Hindi film industry, he was also the patriarch of the Kapoor family, five generations of which have played active roles in Bollywood.
He was born on November 3, 1902 at Samundri to a middleclass Punjabi family belonging to the Khatri caste of Hindus.
His father, Dewan Basheswarnath Kapoor, was a sub-inspector of police.
He received his higher education at the Edward College, Peshawar.
It was here that his talents on stage first received expression. He also studied law as a graduate student for one year, but his heart was in theatre.
In 1928 Prithviraj moved to Mumbai. His performance in ‘Vidyapati’ (1937) was much appreciated.
His best-known performance is perhaps in ‘Alexander the Great’ and in Sohrab Modi’s ‘Sikander’.
Through all these years Prithviraj remained devoted to the theatre. Prithviraj invested in and founded ‘Prithvi Theatres,’ a travelling troupe which staged memorable productions across India. In over 16 years of existence, the theatre staged some 2,662 shows. Prithviraj starred as the lead actor in every single show. 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), ‘Harishchandra Taramati’ (1963) Sikandar-e- Azam (1965) and the Kal Aaj Aur Kal (1971).
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. 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 1924. In 1931, when Ramsarni was pregnant for the fourth time, the couple suffered the tragic loss of two of their three children in the space of one week from pneumonia and poisoning.
The couple went on to have four more children. 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.
Nearly all his grandchildren have worked in the field of films, either as actors or filmmakers or both.
Karisma Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor are his great grandchildren. Both Prithviraj and Ramsarni suffered from cancer in their declining years and died within a fortnight of each other, in 1972.