Madhu Jain’s “The Kapoors: The First Family of Indian Cinema” is a good read for anyone interested in Bollywood, the Hindi-language film industry. The Kapoors, beginning with patriarch Prithviraj, have been in the biz since the silent film era; his children and grandchildren have acted in hundreds of Bollywood films. Jain had access to several family members as well as to family archives, giving her extraordinary insight into the clan, which through marriages and other relationships has been linked to several other leading Bollywood families.
While Prithviraj Kapoor, who founded Prithvi Theaters, had a career that spanned several decades, his oldest son, Raj is the most famous member of the family. Multihyphenate founded RK Studios and acted, directed and produced dozens of films beginning with 1948’s “Aag.” With their socialist message, his films were hugely popular overseas, especially in the former Soviet Union.
Considering that the book spans five generations of Kapoors (from Prithviraj’s father down to Raj Kapoor’s granddaughters and grandnephews), the author has done a pretty good job covering their film careers as well as personal lives, including the Kapoor penchant for overdoing booze, sex and work.
Jain, a scribe for India Today and other Indian mags, has an easy writing style and got most of her subjects to open up to her on topics that were fodder for gossip back in the day, such as Raj Kapoor’s many affairs. He had a long-running relationship with the actress Nargis, who sank a lot of her own money into RK Studios, only to sever the link later. While most published accounts said that Nargis broke off the relationship because she realized he would never marry her, Jain says it was because she was miffed that Kapoor got top billing whenever they went abroad while few people recognized his co-star.
The book is at its best when portraying the lives of those Jain spoke to personally, like Raj Kapoor’s brothers, Shammi and Shashi — stars in their own right — as well as Raj’s children Randhir, Rishi and Rima and grandchildren Kareena and Karisma. Rare photos from the family album also liven up the tome, previously published in India.
However, the author’s liberal use of Hindi words without a glossary is a big stumbling block for Western auds. While “Kapoor khandaan” alliterates, readers wouldn’t know the word means dynasty.
There are also some factual errors that could easily have been caught. Jain devotes several pages to Shammi Kapoor’s signature song “Yahoo,” which led to his Elvis Presley image, but wrongly lists the movie as “Tumsa nahin dekha” when it was “Junglee.” Two very different composers provided music for those movies. Similarly, she says Vyjanthimala starred in 1948’s “Mela,” which was toplined by Nargis.