There is no film family quite like the Kapoors. A family of professional actors and director they span almost eighty years of film making in India. From the 1920s to the present each decade in the history of Hindi film had had at least one kapoor if not more playing a large part in defining it.
Never before have four generations of this family or five if you include Bashesharnath Kapoor, Prithviraj Kapoor’s father who played the judge in Awara been brought together in one book. The Kapoor details the professional careers and personal lives of each generation box office successes and failures the ideologies that informed their work the larger than life Kapoor weddings and Holi celebration their extraordinary romantic liaisons and family relationship their love for food and their dark passages with alcohol. Based on extensive personal intervies conducted over seven years with family members and friends Madhu Jian goes behind the façade of each member of the Kapoor clan to reveal what makes them tick. The Kapoors resembles the films that the great showman Raj Kapoor made: grand and sweeping with moments of high drama and touching emotion.
Madhu Jain was educated at Connecticut College in the United States,
following which she did her masters in literature from Delhi University
and studied French literature at the Sorbonne in Paris. In the 1970s she
worked as a reporter for the Statesman, moving towards the end of the
decade to Sunday magazine to write on politics, foreign affairs and
culture. She was also the New Delhi correspondent with the French
national daily, La Croix, for a decade before she joined India Today in
1986, where she remained until 2000. Since then she has written for
several publications, including Outlook and the Hindu, on contemporary
life, art and cinema. She has curated two art exhibitions-Kitsch Kitsch
Hota Hai on kitsch and the contemporary imagination and the other on
the painter Viswanadhan.
Madhu Jain lives in Delhi with her physicist husband Krishna Jain.
They have two children.
Darkness had settled in on the way to Khandala. The narrow road curved into oblivion the street lights slanting feebly on it. Three of us were driving down from Bombay on a winter day in 1969 to this charming hill station in the Western Ghats. We wants to surprise an actor friend on a film shoot here. The road was deserted and we actor friend on a film shoot here. The road was deserted and we were hopelessly lost until we saw a tall man walking down the road the mist playing hide and seek with this figure in a white Kurta pyjama. I rolled down the car window a few inches to ask for directions not quite making the effort to look the stranger in the eye. In impeccable Pucca sahib English he obliged. There was something familiar about his voice. Curious bemused smiling face of shashi Kapoor came into view. And then that face with its trademark smile one that his launched a million crushes disappeared into the night.
Shashi Kapoor has this habit of going up to people and saying I am shashi Kapoor. Haven’t we met before? If sounds like a line but he actually means it when he say it. The actor has a phenomenal memory rarely forgetting a face and the name that goes with it. A few year later while lunching at Ginza a popular Chinese restaurant in New Delhi I spotted Shashi Kapoor at another table. He was lunching with a common friend who introduced us. And out came the trademark line Haven’t we met before? I smile vaguely and tongue tied mumbled something about seeing him at various film festival. No it was in khandala he said grinning mischievously.
I was a reporter with the statesman through much of the seventies. Occasionally asked to write about films I often turned to my Khandala friend for help continuing to do so through next who decades when I shifted to Sunday magazine and later India today. Shashi was never less than generous in sharing his perceptive insights into and anecdotes about Indian cinema. He perceptive insights into and anecdotes about Indian cinema. He even tired to help arrange an interview with a recalcitrant Amitahbh Bachchan. The eyes of most actors glaze over when you talk about other actors or something other than themselves shashi Kapoor however seldom speaks about himself preferring to tell fascinating stories about his father his wife Jennifer Kendal and his brother Raj Kapoor.
Almost a decade age a publisher suggested I write an authorized biography of shashi Kapoor. When I asked him he didn’t take more than a second to refuse. Nor did he want to write an autobiography. There are things about myself he told me that even don’t want to know. What he was keen on however was a biography of prithvi theatres to record for posterity the contribution of Prithviraj Kapoor in its first avatar and that of Jennifer and his two children Sanjana and Kunal in its second. (The book he had in mind was eventually published in 2004 as Prithviwallahas).
So, I shelved the idea of a shashi Kapoor biography. I realize that I had missed the wood for the trees. The biography that was waiting to be written was not of a particular kapoor but of the waiting to be written was not of a particular Kapoor but of the Kapoor en masse the Kapoor Khandaan (dynasty). The Kapoor family is unique in the history of cinema India or international. In the first decade of the new millennium the fourth generation of Kapoors continues to be on the cinema marquees. Or one can say the fifth generation if you include Bashesharnath Kapoor prithviraj Kapoor father: he played the judge in Awara. In his review of Bobby in the New York Times Bernard weintraub described the kpoor s the Redgrave’s of Indian cinema. It was an understatement then and even more so now. You can count the Redgrave on your hands as you can other film dynasties like the Huston and the Barrymore’s you would need two sets of hands and more to count the number of actors and directors the kapoor family tree. In quantifiable terms no film dynasty even begins to approach the Kapoor. The only dynasty (excluding monarchies) comparable to the Kapoor in this respect is a political one the Kennedys.
It would have been a dream alliance a merger between the first family of Indian politics and the first family of Indian cinema. Something in the mid-sixties Indira Gandhi was looking for a suitable Indian bride for her elder son Rajiv. And apparently she thought she had found her in Ritu Kapoor Raj and Krishna Kapoor blue eyed daughter. But the dream alliance was not to be: rajiv away at Cambridge was by then deeply in love with Sonia Maino and the two were married in 1967 in New Delhi.
Mrs Gandhi wasn’t star-struck. In fact we may even assume that bollywood was an unusual place for hr to look for a daughter in law. But the appeal of the Kapoors lay beyond the fact that they were Indian premier film family and that Raj Kapoor was almost a household name in the erstwhile soviet union parts of cinema and north Africa and even isreal. It had to do with family pedigree. Prithviraj Kapoor the founder of the Kapoor film dynasty was a close associate of Jawahrlal Nehru. He also knew Jawaharlal Nehru father Motilala Nehru. A Rajya Saheb member of Parliament for five years Prithviraj had been a staunch congressman. Jawaharlal and he were roughly the same age and shred more or less the same ideals. While the charismatic politician played out his vision of socialism and a secular society on the political stage the imposing thespian transported a similar vision in his production for prithvi Theatres staging the plays in remote corners of the country.
Raj Kapoor too like his father was an admirer of Nehru and knew him well. He almost put Nehru on screen and man Friday at R.K. films Nehru had agreed to appear in an Dilli door Nahin a film produced by Raj Kapoor. Rajji had met Panditji. The film was about a boy who goes to see chacha Nehru with a letter for him hoping to get his innocent father released from jail. The episode was to be shot in teen Murti. But then other advised the prime minister not to appear in a film.
The progenitors of both the clans made the blueprints layring the foundation for their heirs. And successive generation have adapted the legacy to their and zeitgeist. Indira Gandhi was as different from her father as Raj Kapoor and his brother shammi and shashi were form theirs. Idealism had lost some of its shine by the time they took up the reins. By the time the Gandhis were represented by Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi and the Gandhis were represented by Rajiv and sanjay Gandhi and the Kapoor by Randhir and Rishi Kapoor and the heroic was no longer in vogue nor were partriarchs. It was the time for pragmatism. The current generation of both families has more of an individualistic streak and inherent noblesse oblige. Whether it is the savvy priyanka Gandhi vadra and the outspoken Rahul Gandhi or Randhir Kapoor spunky daughters Karisma and Kareena Kapoor their name are their fortunes. The clans live on.
A family of professional actors and film makers the kapoor khandaan sapns almost a century of Indian cinema from the time of the silent movies to the present Prithviraj joined film when Indian cinema was in its infancy starring in the first full length talkie Alam ara on the eve of the new millennium his great granddaughter Kareena made waves with her very first film refugee. Her elder sister Karishma the first daughter of the clan to become a star was already a veteran by this time straddling both commercial and middle of the road cinema. As this book goes to Press Rishi Kapoor son Ranbir Raj is waiting in the wings.
There is no other film family quite like the Kapoor. Each decade in the history of Indian cinema has had at least one Kapoor if not more playing a large part in defining it. Prithviraj Kapoor (each separated by seven years) have earned secure and distinct place in the celluloid pantheon. The three brothers represent three different styles according to director to director Govinda Nihalani who has worked with shashi Kapoor. Raj Kapoor inherited his father acting talent as well as him humanist and leftist ideology apparent especially in his earlier films. Even when it was pure entertainment he highlighted the social aspect of his characters. Shami brought a new colour to Indian cinema with his sense of exuberance and expression. Shashi had a different kind of sensibility because of his long association with Prithvi Theatres Shakespreareana and his wife Jennifer. His sensibility is more western and modern. Charm understatement and restraint define him. He also had a contemporary way of expressing emotions.
Through the fifties and sixties the three brothers dominated Hindu cinema. And through the next decade and a half Shashi Kapoor with his nephews Randhir and Rishi Kapoor especially the latter survived the Amitabh Bachchan spawned age of the angry fist flinging hero playing romantic leads. Leer just when it looked like the first family of Indian cinema was finally in decline Karishma and Kareena put it right back in the lead.
Surf the Channels on the small screen on any given day and three is to be a Kapoor popping up. If not a Kapoor by birth the star you could well a Kapoor by Marriage. If you are eve moderately interested far more intricate and Kapoor connection game becomes far more intricate and interesting. The Kapoor have married other film personalities or into other film families. Apart from marital connection there are many actors who are associated with the family as friends.
The tentacles of the Kapoor family spread wide and deep into the Indian film industry (see family tree). Geeta Bali (shammi Kapoor first wife) was an actress: Neetu singh (Rishi’s wife) was his leading lady in several box-office hits Babita (married to Randhir Kapoor) was also an actress; even Jennifer Kendal (Shashi Kapoor’s wife) arguably the finest actress of her time acted in a couple of Hindi films. Actors Premnathand Rajendranath are not only Raj Kapoor cousins they are also the brother of his wife Krishna. Actor director Tinnu anand is a cousin. The other kapoor (Boney Anil and Sanjay) belong to the larger kapoor clan from Peshawar. Actor prem Chopra is married to one of Krishna Kapoor half sisters. There are several martial alliances with the scion of Bollywood luminaries shammi Kapoor daughter kanchan is married to Manmohan desai son Ketan Desai shashi kapoor elder son Kunal is married to sheena sippy ramesh sippy daughter while shashi daughter sanjana was married to film maker aditya battacharya Basu Bhttacharya son whose maternal grandfather was Bimal roy.
There are also of course the much talked about might have been martial mergers between the Kapoor and the Bachchans. Harivansh rai and teji bachchan it is said has asked for the hadn of Raj Kapoor daughter Ritu for their son amitabha but horoscopes came in the way. The two families had to wait decades for another alliance: Bachchan son abhishek. This time something other than horoscopes no one outside the families quite knows what Prevented the union.
The Kapoor consider themselves Hindu pathans form peshwar which is located in the North West frontier province and borders Afghanistan. Displacement migration just moving away make life journey unpredictable and usually more uphill.
There are however compensation like the opportunity to reinvent oneself. Once transplanted to new soil this branch of the Peshwar Kapoor rapidly grew another set of roots. Fair skin light eyes an exaggerated notion of hospitality a soupcon of macho swagger a love for food these are a few of the vestiges of the pathan character that survived the move to Bombay from the frontier outpost. The family used these imported kernels to create a fantasy of what being a kapoor meant. The migrant pathans from a solid middle class background reinvented themselves as the royals of tinsel town. Old snobberies gave way to new extravagant ones. The kapoors are after all if nothing else master of myth making.
In creating a sense of home in this new city prithviraj Kapoor formed Prithvi Theatres a moving tower of Babel comprising about 160 theatre professionals from various region of the country spouting different languages in the image of the city of Bombay itself which was a sound Kaleidoscope of many tongues a rich brew of languages. His repertory was his larger family one always on the move. Yet it would almost seem that the more the family wondered the further they went from home the more the rituals and customs from a distant homeland surface and predominated with a vengeance. It was almost as if prithviraj was trying to recreate the world of the Pahanas which he had given up. He took the pathan virtue of the pathana which he had given up. He took the pathan virtue of hospitality to an extreme: the kapoor home in Matunga was like a dharmasal and the man himself a paterfamilias to those who worked for him in prithvi Theatres and anybody else who turned up at the door for help. Among his peers his gestures were the grandest his voice and laughter the loudest.
Raj Kapoor did it differently. He rarely moved out of his famous cottage in R.K. films in Chembur spending most of his waking hours there with his colleagues friends and hangers on but like his father all of them were from different parts of the country. And for Raj Kapoor home was a bit of Punjab grafted on to Bombay. In Kapoor tradition conversation is punctuated with jis. Countless peri penas (feet touching) are a visual refrain in family gatherings. Robust jhappis (hugs) are the ubiquitous form of greeting perhaps an atavistic inkling of tribal boding.
We are actually deep rooted Punjabis says Randhir we follow all the customs at weddings. Even in life we old fashioned Ramesh sippy based some of his characterizations and mannerisms in Buniyad his epic saga on television of a Punjab family on the kapoors. A lot of Buniyad the feet touching all the chaijis papajis baujis came from my impression of the Kapoor clan they came closest to my idea of the story of a Punjabi family. This is hardly surprising for the kapoor vision of life tends to be refracted through the world of cinema. It defines their lives. For them the line between art and life is blurred. Fantasies of the screen materialize in the real world and vice versa. Who better then than the Kapoor as inspiration for a soap opera?
Prithviraj was a man of simple tastes. For the next generation however everything had to be the biggest and the best: whether it was clothes jewel or cars Raj Kapoor blew it out of all proportion with his Gatsbyseque parties where everything imaginable was on offer from a smorgasbord of kebabs and canapés to scotch. There were stalls for divers kinds of food Indian continental and Chinese (long before five star hotels cottoned on to the multiple choice concept) and even live lobsters. Every kind of liqueur was also on offer. Like Jay Gatsby Raj Kapoor wanted to serve his guest the best and the most expensive the world had to offer without really partaking of any himself. He did love his food and his drink more than was good for him but was happiest in the role of an observer watching his guests enjoy his hospitality.
When the kapoors ran out of customs and rituals they invented them. The family began to envelop itself in an imagined lore: new rites and celebration evolved all burgeoning into a still expanding Kapooriana. Social and family events premieres and birthdays were routinely transformed into elaborate productions. Raj became the original showman of Hindi cinema. He celebrated his birthday as worker day on this day there were traffic jams on the roads leading to R.K. films. Not only were there games and an abundance of food but also extravagant presents for the workers: bicycles watches or radios. Shashi emulated his brother when he could. After the premiere of a film he had produced he would throw a party. All the technicians and workers were invited and he gave them transistor radios and watches when his bank balance allowed it. Raj Kapoor Holi and Diwali parties became annual landmark events for the film community in Bombay a red letter day on filmdom a social register. The R.K. Holi Parties in particular had the entire film industry turning up and most of the guests ended up in a large pond filled with coloured water. Raj even celebrated his daughter Ritu’s doll’s wedding in grand style the barat came in an old Studebaker and shammi Kapoor took and 8mm movie of the wedding. Year later when Ritu herself was married Raj Kapoor unleashed a week long extrvanganza. The groom family was flown down in a chartered plane Shankar Jaiksihan composed the music and there was food from all corners of the country and the finest liqueurs at an elegant sit down dinner for thousands. A decade later Rishi kapoor and neetu singh wedding went on for almost three weeks. Since the guest list went into thousand the wedding reception took place in the chembur golf course. For the latest Kapoor wedding karishma over a thousand guests were invited to Devnar cottage and again there was food from all corners of the corners of the country and the finest from abroad.
Generation Y may not host lavish parties or give away presents but the love for the good things in life especially food still sets the Kapoors apart. In a television chat show the youngest Kapoor star Kareena Kapoor went ecstatic talking about trandoori food. Her father Randhir Kapoor announces proudly she is like me she a kapoor all right. As a family we are fond of the better things in life. Good food, good booze, good living our life revolves around this. This great love has spawned a few family rites. At regular intervals the senior Kapoors Shammi and Shashi still take the entire clan out to a Chinese restaurant: Nankin (before it closed down) kamlin and china garden. (many restaurants in Mumbai stock monogrammed chopsticks for the Kapoor.) or they meet at Devnar cottage.
Nothing succeeds like excess. The flip side of the eat drink and be merry philosophy of life has been obesity alcoholism the occasional streak of wildness and a bouquet of maladies among which diabetes has been most persistent. Where the gene for alcoholism may have originally come from it became progressively more pronounced as it made its way down the family tree Shami Kapoor describes it as the family curse. It is probably the most prominent tragic flaw of the Kapoor. While prithviraj Kapoor drank only moderately his sons have been devastated by alcohol and have struggled with its demons.
If you look at the Kapoor family today scattered all over the city they seem quite sealed into their nuclear family unit; those in the case of Randhir and his wife Babita are further split. However there is strong sense of family binding them all like invisible glue. The ritual is clearly about the entire clan staying together for the Kapoor have an exaggerated sense of family Randhir or Daboo as he is popularly known likes to compare his family to the Italian mafia: we are our own individual personalities. We are brought up like individual thinking men; we don’t meddle in each other lives. But we are like Sicilians: when you need us we gang up. We are like the corleones in the Godfather. We flock together when there is a crisis. Daboo similes are endless he compares his clan to a fire brigade when needed they are there. This was amply displayed when Randhir kapoor underwent heart surgery at Escorts hospital when Randhir Kapoor underwent heart surgery at escorts hospital in Delhi in 2003. The entire clan flew down from Mumbai to be with him. His uncles shammi and shashi his mother his brother his sister, their husbands, even his estranged wife and daughter cousins and friends transformed the hospital into Kapoor country. The Sicilians also kept vigil in breach candy hospital in Mumbai when shammi Kapoor was seriously ill the same years. There is an unstated protocol here. In sickness says shashi kapoor all the kapoor come together.
Looking back it seems improbable that this banyan tree spread this huge larger than life hyperbolic image of the kapoor had developed over just seven and a half decades it was only in 1928 after all that Prithviraj Kapoor left the rather rough terrain of the north west frontier and moved to the fledgling metropolis of Bombay to carve a new life for himself.
It is almost as if the kapoor scripted their lives. Self invention and self-promotion went hand in hand in the carnival world of show business. The kapoor have always been both actors and stars and most of them have led their lives trapped in their cinematic image. Randhir says of his father image: you see any normal person cannot become Raj Kapoor unless he is larger than life. Talking of his father death Randhir says he could not have died in his sleep it was fated that he would go life. When he got his attack in siri fort auditorium the president himself walked upto him to give him the Dadasaheb phalke award. Raj Kapoor was a great showman going in to a coma at the ceremony the president ambulance talking him to the hospital. Every film has a climax. Raj Kapoor life too had a climax.
Raj Kapoor has even left behind a cinematic symbol of his life: the black granite Samadhi he shares with his parents Prithviraj and Ramsarni Kapoor in raj bagh his form in Loni a little outside pure. When sohanlal the caretaker who was once Raj Kapoor cook takes me on a tour of the great showman retreat the place almost comes to life. He shows us the room in which bobby evergreen song sequence Hum Tum ek Kamre mein band hon’ was filmed. He takes us to the river Mora mutha towards the end of the farm where Satyam Shivam sundaram dramativ sequence of flood was filmed. Images of Raj Kapoor sitting on the curved veranda working on his scripts late into the night flash before my eyes.
This 100-acre farm where many of the R.K. films were partially made (satyam shivam sundram, Bobby, Prem Rog and Prem granth) has now been sold to the Maharashtra education institute training college. All that is left of the great showman retreat is the rectangular Samadhi his house and the two storeyed tower like stone and wood office. And the hundred of Gulmohar trees that sway gently in the breeze the late winter afternoon I am there. A few flowers left by an anonymous fan lie on the smooth surface of the smaadhi. The kapoors don’t come here anymore.
Shashi kapoor used to visit the Samadhi of his brother. But he hasn’t visited since the farm was sold.
The subsequent generation of Kapoor is different. As Randhir Kapoor likes to repeat theya re urbans people of the city of Bombay not pathans from the frontier. The cinematic torch of this traditional old fashioned family is being carried forward by two women karishma and kareena (while their cousin Ranbir gets ready to make his acting debut). Only one thing remains gets ready to make his acting debut). Only one thing remains unchanged: there will always be another kapoor waiting in the wings as one fades out for when it comes to the Kapoor there will always be an encore.
This book is largely based on hundreds of interviews conducted over the last seven years. Countless interviews with shashi kapoor yielded a goldmine of information. His photographic memory made his reminiscing all the more valuable. He also opened many forgotten actors actresses and cineastes who had once played an important role in the life and work of the older Kapoors. Raj Kapoor was no longer alive when I started researching this book. Fortunately I had met him a couple of times in his beloved cottage in R.K. films while working on feature articles. Several members of the family opened their respective bags of memories. Shammi kapoor reluctant at first but more forthcoming later was delightfully frank and at times quite theatrical. He often read out form the personal diary he writes on his computer. Ritu Nanda opened up both the studio as well as their chembur home for me and was very generous with his time. Mamaji the studio living memory bank was a fund of information about life in Peshwar and R.K. films both Rishi and Neetu Kapoor were candid beyond expectation as were their two children. As also the children of the other Kapoor particularly Sanjana Kapoor.
In writing this book what interested me was the life behind the work of the Kapoors. I wanted to explore the terrain between gossip and academic analysis essentially steering clear of both. The screen personas of this dynasty are in our collective memory Biography deals with events that throw light on a character.
What goes into the forging of a character however tends to remain elusive since childhood and even adolescence, are said to hold the key to the character of a person it was essential to go beyond the small circle of immediate family to the larger clan and to friends and neighbours who had grown up with them.
Recollection about Prithviraj Kapoor come wrapped in hagiographic epithetic. He was by all accounts an exceptional man pioneering and larger than life. But what made him tick? What was he like as a child a son husband father and friend? What made this Kapoor for me the most intriguing and adventurous of the family leave the North West frontier province in the twenties and head to Bombay to become an actor abandoning his semi bourgeois background and the path to a legal carer laid out for him? What explains Raj Kapoor’s all consuming at times self destructive passion for cinema? What demos plagued him? What was it like for the other Kapoors growing up in the shadow of their overwhelming father and elder brother?
A few of the answers came from the inhabitants of Hollywood lance the little lane in Matunga called college Back Road that was home to the Kapoor for most of the growing up years of Prithviraj Kapoor children. Mrs Jagat Singh Ahuja (known as Lachcha masi) was Ramsarni Kapoor closest friends and shed light on the quotidian life of the family. Her son vinny Ahuja a close friend of Raj and shashi Kapoor was very generous with him time and refreshingly frank about the kapoors in a series of interview. As was screen writer and director prayag Raaj: he did not live in the Kapoor home but close by and started working in Prithvi theatres as a child. His observations are invaluable.
It would have been impossible to reconstruct the frontier days and the respective childhoods of Prithviraj and Raj Kapoor had it not been for Mrs Seth the elder Kapoor cousin. Prithviraj Kapoor was raised by his grandfather. He spent much of his childhood with Mrs seth mother in Peshawar and Murree: she was the closest he had to a mother and loaned him the crucial two hundred rupees when he set out from peshwar to Bombay to became an actor. Raj Kapoor spent most of his holidays in these cities and Mrs seth brother colonel Khanna shared many fond memories of Raj Kapoor Prank filled childhood.
Chance encounters filled the blanks leading to interesting digressions into this family story. Intrigued by the number of DVDs of film I was buying in which various Kapoors have acted the owner of the shop on Janpath told me that his father used to wrestle desi style with Prithviraj Kapoor. When I asked to meet his father he said that it would be better to go down Janpath to whitehouse a shop selling cloth. It belonged to a cousin of Krishna Kapoor and fortunately Mr Malhotra who was also related to Raj Kapoor had his share of anecdotes to relate about the family.
Perhaps Shashi Kapoor will write his autobiography one day waiting for the time when he will be able to confront what he half jokingly refers to as secrets about himself that even he does not want to know. His advice to me when I set out to write this book was that I be honest which I suppose in some way was a carte blanche to look at the less flattering side of the Kapoors as well as their achievements. I hope been able to do justice to that.
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