Prithviraj Kapoor

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Revered actor born in Peshawar (now Pakistan) as Prithvinath Kapoor. Son of a police officer, he earned a major reputation on the amateur stage in Lyallpur and Peshawar. Interrupted law studies to join Imperial in 1929. Acted in several B P Mishra adventure and love stories as well as in India’s first talkie, Alam Ara. He impressed with a perfect speaking voice; later joined the Grant Anderson theatre company and performed Shakespeare in English with special acclaim for his Laertes in Hamlet. Worked in New Theatres (1933-39) playing the lead in Hindi version of hit bilinguals. Broke through with Debaki Bose’s Rajrani Meera and played Rama in Seeta opposite Durga Khote. Vidyapati was his crowning achievement in Calcutta. Chandulal Shah hired him for the Ranjit studio (1938-40) in Bombay where he acted in some remarkable melodramas with Kardar and Chaturbhuj Joshi. Best-known performance as freelance actor was in the title role of Alexander the Great in Sohrab Modi’s military epic, Sikandar. The film heightened his enduring reputation, enhanced by the role of Emperor Akbar in Mughal-e-Azam, as the embodiment of Mughal royalty in Hindi-Urdu cinema. Invested his earnings in Hindi theatre, setting up the Prithvi Theatres in 1944 where he produced plays while shooting films at night. Mounted a major play against partition, Inder Raj Anand’s Deewar (1945) which earned him death threats from fundamentalists. He persisted with technically and artistically masterful plays Gaddar (1947) and Pathan (1948). Launched many new talents through Prithvi Theateres, including Ramanand Sagar, Shankar-Jaikishen and Ramesh Saigal, all of whom later made key members of Raj Kapoor film units, including his sons Raj, Shammi and Shashi. While directing Paisa, he lost his voice and never regained its original sonorousness. Had to close the theatre and reduce his film work in the late 60s and 70s; acted in several Hindi and Punjabi mythologicals and credited with the revival of Punjabi film industry. Died of cancer in 1972.

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