In the bustling neighbourhood of Chembur, an eastern suburb of Mumbai, the tall iron gates of R.K. Studios, usually hidden behind tempos and trucks that line that stretch of road, are hard to miss. The R.K. Films logo towers over the small commercial establishments that surround the premises of one of Mumbai’s oldest film studios. Once you’re inside its partly run-down corridors, offices and staircases, relics from the days of Raj Kapoor grab your attention. Even more so inside the office of Randhir Kapoor, the eldest son of Raj Kapoor.
The elder brother of Rishi and Rajiv Kapoor was born in Matunga, exactly six months before Independence. Their family home at the time was on a street then popularly known as “Punjabi Lane” because, as Kapoor says, “After the Partition, many aspiring actors from Punjab—like Madan Puri, K.N. Singh and Manmohan Krishan—settled here.”
Kapoor’s office is peppered with reminders of his father’s legacy: a trophy from the Karlovy Vary Film Festival of 1957 (for Jaagte Raho), a family portrait of his father with the three sons, a coin collection that his father maintained and which the sons continue to top up, a black and white graphic impression of Raj Kapoor, and an old painting of a joker. “I found that in my father’s things. Someone must have gifted it to him,” he smiles.
The Kapoor family, the only so-called “dynasty” of Indian cinema, is an inseparable part of the history of Hindi cinema in post-independence India, with Kapoor’s daughters, Karisma and Kareena, representing the fourth generation in Mumbai’s film industry.
The story begins in 1927, when Prithviraj Kapoor travelled from Peshawar to India. “We are not a family of the Partition. R.K. Films was established in 1947, like me, this is the studio’s 60th year, too,” he says. In that sense, the journey of the family establishment is also Kapoor’s personal journey: “It is important to me that I was born that year. I value having my freedom of speech, expression and movement, although I’m sure as a country we have a long way to go.”
Unlike his brother Rishi, he never became a star. He made his debut with Kal Aaj Aur Kal (1971) and acted opposite Jaya Bhaduri in Jawani Diwani (his most memorable film) the next year. He was the producer of the R.K. Films blockbuster Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985) and he partly directed another hit, Henna (1991), after his father died while shooting this film.
As a child, by the time Randhir became aware of the changes around him, India was already on its path of social and political change: “I don’t vividly remember the change, but there was a hangover of Gandhian ideals and the khadi spirit. Pandit Nehru was a friend of my parents, so I remember meeting him as a child.” His generation got to hear stories of the freedom struggle from their grandfather, Prithviraj Kapoor, who had strong Gandhian values.
Raj Kapoor broke away from that political idealism in his films and translated it on screen in his unique way: “That was an era of idealism. Look at my father’s films, they were socialistic in nature, and yet the audience identified with his themes and characters. Today, although we have the best technology in our films, we lack soul in our storytelling.” That, he says, is one of the reasons R. K. Films has not made a film in over five years. “We don’t know what to make. Our training and value system are different. I can appreciate Dhoom 2, but I couldn’t produce it.” R.K. Films will begin shooting a film at the end of this year with the newest Kapoor on the block—Rishi’s son, Ranbir.
Randhir was lucky to have found his role models within his own family. “My grandfather, father and uncles Shammi and Shashi were big actors, so our world began and ended in the family,” he says.