One of the most notable names in the Indian film industry and theater, Prithviraj Kapoor, was born on 3rd November 1906. He started his career as an actor during the silent era of Hindi cinema. He is one of the founding members of Indian People's Theater Association, and he founded the famous Prithvi Theaters in 1944, which is a traveling theater company based in Mumbai. He was the patriarch of Kapoor family, which is a famous name in Bollywood since four generations. He was honored for his contribution towards Indian cinema by the Government of India with the Padma Bhushan in 1969 and with Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1971.
Prithviraj Kapoor was born in Lyallpur, and he attended Edwardes College in Peshawar for his higher education. His grandfather, Dewan Keshavmal, had a great influence on him during his childhood. It was only when he joined a two-year law program to become a lawyer that his acting skills received expression. He started his acting career in Lyallpur and Peshawar, but he moved to Bombay in 1928 after taking a loan from his aunt. He started working with the Imperial Films Company in Bombay where he acted as an extra in his first film. He later got a lead role in 1929, in his third film titled Cinema Girl.
He featured in nine silent films before landing a supporting role in Alam Ara, which was India's first talkie. In 1937, he was highly appreciated for his role in Vidyapati. However, his most notable work was seen in Sikander in 1941 where he played Alexander the Great. He joined Grand Andersen Theater Company, which is an English theatrical company which stayed in Bombay for a year. Although he did many films too, he remained dedicated to theater and regularly performed on stage. He soon came to be known for his versatility both on screen and on stage.
Prithviraj Kapoor founded his own theater company called Prithvi Theaters. The first performance of his company was Abhijnanasakuntalam in 1942, written by Kalidasa. His company was a traveling troupe and the plays they performed were highly appreciated, remembered and influential. They also inspired young Indians to participate in Indian freedom struggle and the Quit India movement. The group played 2,662 stage performances, and their most popular play was Pathan, a story of a Muslim and Hindu friends. It opened on 13 th April 1947 and was staged about 600 times. After 16 years of existence, the trend of a traveling theatre group was not very feasible due to overwhelming attraction to the cinema. Thus, many actors and technicians who were borne by Prithvi theaters found their place in Hindi cinema, along with his own sons. He eventually stopped theater and did occasional films.
In 1978, with the inauguration of Prithvi Theater in Juhu, Mumbai, the theater company found a permanent home, after being merged with Indian Shakespeare theater company. The merged company came to be known as Shakespeareana and was done under his son 'Shashi Kapoor' and his wife, Jennifer Kendal. 1966 was the Golden Jubilee year of Prithvi Theaters and in celebration of it, India Post issued a two-rupee postage stamp which featured the company's logo, Prithviraj Kapoor's image and dated it as 1945-1995. When Indian cinema completed 100 years of its existence, a postage stamp featuring his face was issued on 3rd May 2013.
His notable films include Mughal-e-Azam in 1960, Harishchandra Taramati in 1963, Sikander-e-Azam in 1965, Kal Aaj Aur Kal in 1971, etc. He also acted in Punjabi films such as Nanak Nam Jahaz Hai in 1969, Nanak Dukhiya Sub Sansar in 1970 and Mele Mitran De in 1972. He has also appeared in a Kannada film titled Sakshatkara in 1971. He was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship in 1954 and Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1956.
Prithviraj was only 17 years old when he was married to Ramsarni, a 14-year-old young girl. They had three children together - Shammi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor and Urmila Sial. They had two more children, but both of them died, one due to double pneumonia and the other due to poisoning caused by swallowing rat poison pills in the garden. After he had retired, the couple lived in a leased cottage called Prithvi Jhonpra, near Juhu Beach in Mumbai. The place was bought and transformed into an experimental theater, popularly called Prithvi Theater by his son Shashi Kapoor. Prithviraj and Ramsarni both suffered from cancer and died within a fortnight of each other. Prithviraj passed away on 29th May 1972, and his wife Ramsarni followed on 14th June 1972.