Raj Kapoor

14 Dec 1924
2 Jun 1988
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Ranbir Raj Kapoor also known as “The Show Man”, was a noted Indian film actor, producer and director of Hindi cinema. He was the winner of two National Film Awards and nine Filmfare Awards in India, and a two-time nominee for the Palme d’Or grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his films Awaara (1951) and Boot Polish (1954). His performance in Awaara was ranked as one of the top ten greatest performances of all time by Time magazine. His films attracted worldwide audiences, particularly in Asia and Europe. The Government of India honoured him with the Padma Bhushan in 1971 and the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1987 for his contributions towards Indian cinema. He was called Clark Gable of the Indian film industry.

Raj Kapoor was born in Dhakki Munawwar Shah near Qissa Khwani in Peshawar, (then) India (modern day Pakistan) into a Pathan Hindu family to Prithviraj Kapoor and Ramsarni Devi Kapoor. He was the eldest of six children in the family. He was the grandson of Dewan Basheshwarnath Kapoor and great-grandson of Dewan Keshavmal Kapoor, part of the famous Kapoor family. His brothers are actors Shashi Kapoor and the late Shammi Kapoor. He also had a sister named Urmila Sial. Two other siblings died in infancy. They later on moved from the Peshawar and Pathan area into the Punjab area for resident and for education. Raj Kapoor and Shammi Kapoor have claimed to be ethnic Pathans on Indian television.

Raj Kapoor attended Colonel Brown Cambridge School, Dehradun in the 1930s and St Xavier’s Collegiate School.

At the age of ten, he appeared in films for the first time, in 1935’s Inquilab. After acting in several films over the next 12 years, Raj Kapoor’s big break came with the lead role in Neel Kamal (1947) opposite Madhubala in her first role as a leading lady. In 1948, at the age of twenty-four, he established his own studio, R. K. Films, and became the youngest film director of his time making his directorial debut with Aag starring himself, Nargis, Kamini Kaushal and Premnath. In 1949 he co-starred alongside Dilip Kumar and Nargis in Mehboob Khan’s blockbuster Andaz which was his first major success as an actor.

He went on to produce and star in several hit films made under his RK banner including Barsaat (1949), Awaara (1951), Shree 420 (1955), Chori Chori (1956), Jagte Raho (1956) and Jis Desh Men Ganga Behti Hai (1960), the last was directed by Radhu Karmakar, his longtime cinematographer, and which won Filmfare Award for Best Film.[10] These films established his screen image modeled on Charlie Chaplin’s most famous screen persona of The Tramp. Outside of his home productions his other notable films included Anari (1959), Chhalia (1960) and Teesri Kasam (1966).

In 1964, he produced, directed and starred in the romantic musical Sangam alongside Rajendra Kumar and Vyjayantimala which was his first film in colour. This was his last major success as a leading actor as his later films like Around the World (1966) and Sapnon Ka Saudagar (1968) with younger starlets Rajshree and Hema Malini were box office flops. In 1965 he was a member of the jury at the 4th Moscow International Film Festival.

In 1970 he produced, directed and starred in his ambitious film Mera Naam Joker which took more than six years to complete. His son Rishi Kapoor made his debut in this film playing the younger version of his character. When released in 1970, it was a box office disaster and put Kapoor and his family into a financial crisis.In later years it was acknowledged as a classic.

In 1971, he launched his eldest son Randhir Kapoor in the family drama Kal Aaj Aur Kal starring himself, his son Randhir, his father Prithviraj Kapoor as well as Randhir’s would-be-wife Babita. He launched his second son Rishi Kapoor’s career in 1973 when he produced and directed Bobby which was a huge box office success and introduced actress Dimple Kapadia, later a very popular actress; it was the first of a new generation of teen romances. Dimple wore bikinis which was quite unique for Indian films then. In 1975 he acted alongside his son Randhir again in Dharam Karam, which Randhir directed.

In the latter half of the 1970s and early 1980s he produced and directed films that focused on the female protagonists: Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978) with Zeenat Aman, Prem Rog (1982) with Padmini Kolhapure and Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985) which introduced Mandakini. He acted in fewer films by the late 1970s and early 1980s but played notable supporting roles alongside Rajesh Khanna in Naukri (1978) and alongside Sanjay Khan in Abdullah (1980). In 1979 he was a member of the jury at the 11th Moscow International Film Festival.

Raj Kapoor’s last major film appearance was in Vakil Babu (1982) where he appeared with his younger brother Shashi. His last acting role was a cameo appearance in a 1984 released British made-for-television film titled Kim.

He was set to direct Henna starring his son Rishi and Pakistani actress Zeba Bakhtiar before his death in 1988. His son Randhir directed the film and it released in 1991.

At the age of ten, he appeared in films for the first time, in 1935’s Inquilab. After acting in several films over the next 12 years, Raj Kapoor’s big break came with the lead role in Neel Kamal (1947) opposite Madhubala in her first role as a leading lady. In 1948, at the age of twenty-four, he established his own studio, R. K. Films, and became the youngest film director of his time making his directorial debut with Aag starring himself, Nargis, Kamini Kaushal and Premnath. In 1949 he co-starred alongside Dilip Kumar and Nargis in Mehboob Khan’s blockbuster Andaz which was his first major success as an actor.

He went on to produce and star in several hit films made under his RK banner including Barsaat (1949), Awaara (1951), Shree 420 (1955), Chori Chori (1956), Jagte Raho (1956) and Jis Desh Men Ganga Behti Hai (1960), the last was directed by Radhu Karmakar, his longtime cinematographer, and which won Filmfare Award for Best Film.[10] These films established his screen image modeled on Charlie Chaplin’s most famous screen persona of The Tramp. Outside of his home productions his other notable films included Anari (1959), Chhalia (1960) and Teesri Kasam (1966).

In 1964, he produced, directed and starred in the romantic musical Sangam alongside Rajendra Kumar and Vyjayantimala which was his first film in colour. This was his last major success as a leading actor as his later films like Around the World (1966) and Sapnon Ka Saudagar (1968) with younger starlets Rajshree and Hema Malini were box office flops. In 1965 he was a member of the jury at the 4th Moscow International Film Festival.

In 1970 he produced, directed and starred in his ambitious film Mera Naam Joker which took more than six years to complete. His son Rishi Kapoor made his debut in this film playing the younger version of his character. When released in 1970, it was a box office disaster and put Kapoor and his family into a financial crisis.[12] In later years it was acknowledged as a classic.

In 1971, he launched his eldest son Randhir Kapoor in the family drama Kal Aaj Aur Kal starring himself, his son Randhir, his father Prithviraj Kapoor as well as Randhir’s would-be-wife Babita. He launched his second son Rishi Kapoor’s career in 1973 when he produced and directed Bobby which was a huge box office success and introduced actress Dimple Kapadia, later a very popular actress; it was the first of a new generation of teen romances. Dimple wore bikinis which was quite unique for Indian films then. In 1975 he acted alongside his son Randhir again in Dharam Karam, which Randhir directed.

In the latter half of the 1970s and early 1980s he produced and directed films that focused on the female protagonists: Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978) with Zeenat Aman, Prem Rog (1982) with Padmini Kolhapure and Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985) which introduced Mandakini. He acted in fewer films by the late 1970s and early 1980s but played notable supporting roles alongside Rajesh Khanna in Naukri (1978) and alongside Sanjay Khan in Abdullah (1980). In 1979 he was a member of the jury at the 11th Moscow International Film Festival.

Raj Kapoor’s last major film appearance was in Vakil Babu (1982) where he appeared with his younger brother Shashi. His last acting role was a cameo appearance in a 1984 released British made-for-television film titled Kim.

He was set to direct Henna starring his son Rishi and Pakistani actress Zeba Bakhtiar before his death in 1988. His son Randhir directed the film and it released in 1991.

Raj Kapoor is appreciated both by film critics and movie fans. Film historians and movie buffs speak of him as the “Charlie Chaplin of Indian cinema,” since he often portrayed a tramp-like figure, who, despite adversity, was still cheerful and honest. His fame spread worldwide. He was adored by audiences in large parts of Africa, the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, China, and Southeast Asia; his movies were global commercial successes. Raj had the knack of getting the best out of any one, since he had mastered all departments of film making and even marketing them.[peacock term] When Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru died in 1964 coinciding with release of Sangam, he took the opportunity to create a scene when Gopal ashes were immersed in Ganges, like Pandit Nehru described in his poetic will. His films reflected the Era in which it was made.

He had a great understanding of the public taste and a great sense of Box-Office. He was one of the pioneers of the Indian cinema, who talked about the potential of Hindi cinema emerging as a great revenue earner from the world market in fifties, which has become a reality today.

Many of Raj Kapoor’s movies had a patriotic theme. His films Aag, Shree 420 and Jis Desh Men Ganga Behti Hai (In the country where the Ganges flows) celebrated the newly independent India, and encouraged film-goers to be patriots. Raj Kapoor commissioned these famous lyrics for Mera Joota Hai Japani, a song from the movie Shree 420:

Mera joota hai Japani (My shoes are Japanese)
Ye patloon Inglistani (These trousers are English)
Sar pe lal topi Roosi (The red cap on my head is Russian)
Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani (But still, however, my heart is Indian)
The song is still extremely popular and has been featured in a number of movies since Shree 420 was released. Indian author Mahasweta Devi stopped the show with her inaugural speech at the 2006 Frankfurt Book Fair when she used these lyrics to express her own heartfelt patriotism and debt to her country.

Raj Kapoor was a canny judge of filmi music and lyrics. Many of the songs he commissioned are evergreen hits. He introduced the music directors Shankar-Jaikishan and the lyricists Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra. He is also remembered for his strong sense of visual style. He used striking visual compositions, elaborate sets, and dramatic lighting to complete the mood set by the music. He introduced the actresses Nimmi, Dimple Kapadia, and Mandakini, as well as launching and reviving the careers of his sons Rishi, Randhir and Rajiv. He was also famous for making his actresses wear revealing clothing which was not very common in Indian cinema.

A postage stamp, bearing his face, was released by India Post to honour him on 14 December 2001. To honour him, a brass statue of his was unveiled at Walk of the Stars at Bandra Bandstand in Mumbai in March 2012.

In 2014, Google commemorates his 90th birthday.

One Tribute

  1. VS Karpur said on December 20, 2014
    A great showman and a visionary with social commitment. Essayed the social evils in public life through his excellent movies as far back as 60 years. These evils are affecting our Nation on a Demonic scale today. We were fortunate to have him with us. A Great Soul Indeed, will live through Ages. VS Karpur.

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