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Longest-running family saga


Prithviraj. Raj. Shammi. Shashi. Randhir. Rishi. Rajiv. Karan. Kunal. Karisma. Kareena. Ranbir. Just roll those names off your tongue. There is little doubt this is Bollywood's Family No 1.

All that the strapping 22-year-old with dropdead gorgeous looks had with him that muggy post-monsoon day in 1928, getting off the Frontier Mail at the train terminal in Colaba (located next to the Cooperage playground at the time), was a small trunk, a felt cap, a hockey stick, Rs 75 borrowed from an aunt and one big dream - Prithviraj Kapoor wanted to be an actor. His father's unkind words must have reverberated in his ears through the two days and nights that the train chugged along from Peshawar to Bombay. The portly police official had called his young son a kanjar, a derogatory Punjabi word used for pimps, when Prithviraj spoke of his wish to be an actor. Little did Basheshwarnath Kapoor know that the young Prithvi would go on to found the first family of Indian cinema. Today, the fifth generation of the Kapoor film dynasty is still going strong with cousins Kareena Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor hogging the big screen, gossip columns and, increasingly, glossy advertisements.

Ironically, Basheshwarnath ended up acting in two films himself - playing the judge in his grandson Raj Kapoor's iconic film Awara and acting in Paisa, the only film his son was to direct. If you count him, then Ranbir and Kareena are the fifth generation of Kapoors in Bollywood.

Prithviraj Kapoor started as an extra in Challenge in 1929. He played a major role in India's first talkie Alam Ara in 1931. He must have acted in about 130 films. However, the two films he is most remembered for are Sikander and Mughal-e-Azam.

But his real passion was theatre. Apart from cinema, his major legacy is Prithvi Theatre;in its first incarnation in 1944, it was called Prithvi Theatres because he wanted his repertoire to travel to all corners of the country and stage plays in several Indian languages. Today, his granddaughter Sanjana Kapoor and grandson Kunal Kapoor run Prithvi Theatre. This nursery for many actors and cineastes was given a second incarnation (notice the 's' has been dropped) by their mother, the brilliant actress Jennifer Kendal.

Beginning with the late '20s, each decade in the history of Indian cinema had a Kapoor as a major player. Prithviraj Kapoor's three sons, Raj, Shammi and Shashi (14 years separate Raj and Shashi) have secured distinct places in the celluloid pantheon. Each of them managed to forge an individual identity.

Raj Kapoor's genius lay not only in his acting but in wielding the director's baton. Perhaps he will be most remembered for his cinematic depictions of the social upheaval and change that took place in the aftermath of Partition and Independence through classic films like Aag, Awara and Shri 420. This Kapoor, who became a household name in many parts of the world, also brought passion to screen romance.

Shammi Kapoor was the first hero to unleash adolescent sexuality in Indian films. That famous 'Yahoo!' cry of his in the film Junglee incarnated the suppressed passion of youth while he brought sexual energy to the screen with his dance moves. Shashi Kapoor, the gentleman-actor, brought a more understated, western sensibility to Hindi cinema. This Kapoor also made a breakthrough in international films.

The Kapoor acting gene is a stubborn one. All three of Raj Kapoor's sons (Randhir, Rishi and Rajeev) became actors. All of them also directed films. Rishi Kapoor, a natural actor, has had the longest innings as a romantic hero - apart from the legendary Dev Anand.

Generation Next hasn't slowed down either. Randhir Kapoor's daughters have carried the Kapoor torch with elan. Karisma Kapoor, a gifted dancer, became a leading actress in the 1990s. She gave some memorable performances followed by Kareena taking charge in this millennium. Ranbir Kapoor catapulted to the A-list of Bollywood, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat with his debut film Saawariya.

There's always a Kapoor waiting in Bollywood's wings. For this family, the show must go on. And on.

Reader's opinion (1)

Yeshwant KulkarniOct 16th, 2010 at 17:03 PM

Prithviraj. Raj. Shammi. Shashi. Randhir. Rishi. Rajiv. Karan. Kunal. Karisma. Kareena. Ranbir.................
It will be continued year after year

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