Prithviraj Kapoor (3 Nov. 1901 – 29 May 1972) son of Dewan Basheswarnath Kapoor, a sub-inspector of police was born in Samundri, near the town of Lyallpur (now Faisalabad in Pakistan). He studied law but his heart was in theatre. In 1928, with the help of a loan from his aunt, Prithviraj moved to Bombay. He started as an extra in films, and got a lead role for his third film Cinema Girl (1929). After featuring in nine silent films, he acted in India’s first film talkie, Alam Ara (1931). He developed a reputation as a very fine and versatile actor on both stage and screen. By 1942, Prithviraj founded a travelling theatre group, Prithvi Theatres, which staged plays across India. Raj Kapoor’s Awaara in 1951 starred Prithviraj and Raj as father and son. Prithviraj also acted in a Kannada movie as Rajkumar’s father – Sakshatkara (1971) directed by legendary Kannada director Puttanna Kanagal. While directing Paisa, Prithviraj lost his voice which sadly never regained its full sonorousness. Subsequently he reduced his film work. Prithviraj felt the need for a theatre space which would provide amateur theatre groups with professional facilities. With this in mind he leased out a land in Juhu, Bombay with the hope of building a theatre on it. Unfortunately this was not to be realised in his lifetime. His son Shashi Kapoor bought this property and in 1978 converted it into an experimental theatre, the Prithvi Theatre. Prithviraj’s dream of a permanent place for his theatre company thus became a reality.
As was quite common in that era, Prithviraj married at a young age. At the age of 17, he married 14-year-old Ramsarni Mehra, in 1918. 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.
The Govt. of India honoured him with the Padma Bhushan in 1969 and Dadasaheb Phalke Award (posthumously) in 1972 for his contributions to Indian cinema. He also served as a nominated member of the Indian upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha for 8 years.
Prithviraj Kapoor is the Patriarch of India’s first film family – THE KAPOORS, who has given four generations of actors in Hindi film industry. Prithviraj’s sons Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, and Shashi Kapoor became legendary actors and film-makers. Most of his grandchildren – Raj Kapoor’s sons (Randhir Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, and Rajiv Kapoor), Sashi Kapoor’s sons & daughter (Karan Kapoor, Kunal Kapoor, and Sanjana Kapoor) have acted in films. And so have his great grand children – Randhir Kapoor’s daughters (Karisma Kapoor, and Kareena Kapoor), and Rishi Kapoor’s son Ranbir Kapoor. Sanjana Kapoor was the first female from the Kapoor family to act in movies, but her career was not successful. Karisma Kapoor was the first female Film Star of the Kapoor family. Kareena and Ranbir now continue the legacy of the Kapoor Family.