Remembering Hindi cinema’s legendary actor Prithviraj Kapoor on his 47th death anniversary.

Remembering Hindi cinema’s legendary actor Prithviraj Kapoor on his 47th death anniversary.

Prithviraj Kapoor was one of the luminaries of Indian theatre and film, who is best remembered for his good looks, imposing presence and commanding voice. His performance as Alexander the Great in Sohrab Modi’s Sikandar (1941) and as Akbar in K. Asif’s magnum opus, Mughal-e-azam (1960) were landmarks in the history of Hindi cinema. He also laid the foundation for the first family of film — the Kapoors, and paved the way for the successive generations of the family to succeed in the film industry, which include Hindi film legends Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor to the present generation that includes Karisma and Kareena Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor, to name a few. Prithviraj Kapoor’s commitment to theatre also led to the long-lasting Prithvi Theatres in Bombay.

Born on November 3, 1906 in Samundri (in post-Partition Pakistan), Kapoor began his acting career in the theatres in Lyallpur and Peshawar. After studying law for a year, Kapoor left his studies and moved to Bombay in 1929 to join films. He soon joined the Imperial Films Company in Bombay and went on to work in Ardeshir Irani’s Alam Ara (1931). During the 1930s, Kapoor played lead roles in many films produced by the New Theatres in Kolkata. His first major breakthrough film turned out to be Debaki Bose’s Rajrani Meera (1932). What followed in the next few years was a number of successful films like Seeta (1934), Manzil (1936), President (1937), and Vidyapati (1937). By the late 1930s, Kapoor returned to Bombay and worked in a number of melodramas produced by Chandulal Shah’s Ranjit Studio.

In 1944, Prithviraj launched Prithvi Theatre to promote Hindustani stage productions. He continued to work in theatre regularly while simultaneously working in film. His first play was ‘Shakuntala’, and the subsequent plays were socially relevant, addressing the concerns of the times. In over 16 years of its existence under him, Prithvi Theatre did more than 2,000 shows. He played the lead in every single show and was deeply committed to establishing it as a mecca for talent. Aspiring actors and other film personalities including film director Ramanand Sagar, the music composing duo Shankar-Jaikishan, music director Ram Ganguly, were all a part of Prithvi Theatre.

By the 1950s, Kapoor’s son Raj Kapoor had made a number of successful films that defined the classic age of Hindi cinema during the era. Prithviraj worked with his sons and grandsons who joined the industry subsequently. Some of these films are Raj Kapoor’s Awaara (1951), Randhir Kapoor’s Kal Aaj Aur Kal (1971) and Khwaja Ahmad Abbas’s Aasmaan Mahal (1965). His other major films include V. Shantaram`s Dahej (1950), Aasmaan Mahal (1965), Teen Bahuraniyaan (1968), and the Punjabi film Nanak Naam Jahaaz Hai (1969). In 1969, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India.
Sadly, Prithviraj lost his characteristic voice during the period when he was directing Paisa. After this, he closed Prithvi Theatre and did not perform as many roles in films.

His last appearance on screen was in Kal Aaj Aur Kal (1971), after which, he breathed his last after a battle with cancer, on May 29, 1972. He was posthumously honoured with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1972, for his unparalleled contribution to the world of Indian cinema.

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