Okay, I was thinking this would be a nice easy starting point for my new Hindi Film 101 series, and it is taking FOREVER. But I’m glad I’m doing it this way, because each of these branches and generations really needs their own focus area. And (hopefully) it will make it easier for you to refer back to them (part 1 with Prithviraj, Shammi, and Shashi here, part 2 with Raj and Nargis here)
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: These are not “facts”, or “true”, or maybe they are, I have no way of knowing! I don’t know the Kapoor family personally or anything like that. But if you are just beginning to get into the films, I want to give you a sense of the background that most people have for the Kapoors, what is behind all the allusions in film articles and odd comments in interviews.
At the end of my last post, I had brought Raj Kapoor through his romantic travails, his artistic success, and finally his spectacular death. But after Raj, what? It was supposed to be Randhir, he was his father’s oldest son, he had been groomed to take over. At age 24, he was given the script for Kal Aaj Aur Kal and told that he would star in it (his first film role) and also direct (his first directing job) and his father and grandfather would both be starring with him. The general consensus of the time is that he put in a good decent job both as director and actor. But it wasn’t “brilliant!”, not in the way his father had been at his age.
(Look how nervous he looks, even just on the poster!)
Randhir did at least have one thing in common with his father, he fell in love with his co-star. And married her! Babita, a rising young actress, was opposite him in Kal Aaj Aur Kal. They were both just 23-24, but while Randhir was in his very first movie with the whole weight of his family behind him, Babita had been acting since she was 18 and had proven her success on her own merit.
(Super cute together though, right?)
Okay, now is the time to remember that both of Raj’s daughters married outside the film industry. There is an accepted truism that “Kapoor women don’t act”. That means wives, but also and especially daughters. This is a truism that really isn’t that true, both Geeta Bali and Jennifer Kendal continued acting post-marriage. Although their careers slowed down and they focused on their family, it wasn’t like they stopped dead.
But on the other hand, both Raj and Prithviraj married woman of good proper upper class families, women whose main focus was on the home. I suppose it would be natural that they would want that kind of wife for their sons, and that kind of life for their daughters. And so Ritu and Rima were married off to nice businessman who let them live lives in relative anonymity. Ritu, by the way, went on to be a very successful businesswoman in her own right post marriage. So it’s not like they weren’t “allowed” to work at all, but just stay out of film. Which kind of makes you wonder what the Kapoor men knew about what happened to actresses which lead them to forbid their daughters from acting?
And then Randhir fell in love with and married Babita. Babita is ethnically Sindhi, not Punjabi like the Kapoors. And she comes from an acting background, her father was a character actor. But the marriage went through without any public controversy and with great rejoicing. And then Babita stopped working immediately and focused on her family. She still had a few movies that came out post-marriage, but they had all been completed before marriage.
Randhir started working to support the family. And he did all right, getting a few roles outside of the family, and then being brought back to direct another movie for the family studio the year after his first child (Karisma) was born. It did all right, but he wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire.
(Look how sad he looks in the poster, even with that sexy lady on his chin)
More troubling, his problems with alcohol were increasingly apparent. This is another part of the Kapoor family, they all drink to excess (except Shashi, as always he is special). I don’t want to say that all the Kapoors are alcoholics, more that they have a family culture which is very nurturing to alcoholism. No one would necessarily notice that you had a problem, or be willing to acknowledge it, the same way they might if alcohol was a rare occurrence at family functions and other events.
It’s not really spoken of in the media, but the story is there in his filmography. He goes from 1-4 films a year from 1971-1983, and then there is nothing for 4 years. Feel free to diagnosis however you want-genetic predisposition or reaction to the enormous pressure of living up to his father and guilt when he couldn’t-but the end result is that he just couldn’t cut it as a director or a film star or head of the RK studios, and eventually he couldn’t even cut it as a husband and father.
(Not the happiest family. Or else just an awkward moment caught on film. But it feels like more)
And then there’s Babita, who gave up her promising career for him and is now watching him drink himself away. Again, we don’t know the details, but in 1988 she left him and took her daughters out of the Kapoor family. It’s often said that she wanted her daughters to act and knew they wouldn’t be allowed if they stayed “Kapoors”. But then, it’s also said that she left the marriage for other reasons (alcohol?) and only forced her daughters to act because they needed to help support the household after the separation. Who knows where the truth lies!
But what is true is that Karisma started acting at age 16, shortly after the separation. She had 22 movies come out in her first 4 years as an actress. And a lot of them were baaaaaaaaaaad movies. This wasn’t the careful Kapoor launch enjoyed by her father, or by her uncles Shammi and Shashi. This was desperate catch-as-catch can acting to put food on the family table.
(Yes, she has a naturally baby face, but even so, this girl is not old enough to be in films and not old enough to be wearing these costumes!)
If Raj Kapoor saw his life as a series of romantic films, his granddaughter Karisma’s life was in reality a series of tragedy films. First there was her father’s drinking and her parents’ separation, which lead to her being thrown into the film world with no training or preparation of any kind and being forced to work herself to a shred to support the family. And then, at age 18, her tragic love life started.
First there was Ajay (yes, Kajol’s Ajay). They met when she was 18 and he was 23 while co-starring in a film. Supposedly they dated for 3 years, before he left her for Kajol. While this was heartbreaking on the personal side, her professional life was finally falling into place. After years of playing the bubbly girlfriend in action movies and comedies (personally, I think her work in Andaz Apna Apna is right up there with Salman’s and Aamir’s), she finally got recognition for a quality dramatic role in Raja Hindustani. Not so coincidentally, she also got a make-over for that role from her usual bouncy sexy bubbly self, to something a little more traditional and serious looking.
From 1996 to 2002 were Karisma’s golden years, personally and professionally. After Raja Hindustani, she finally had some respect in the industry. She was still working way too much, and a few of her films were kind of losers, but she had Dil To Pagal Hai and Biwi No. 1 and Dulhan Hum Le Jayenge, big mainstream hits with really big interesting parts for her. And towards the end of this period, she even started finding success in some very well-received more art films, Fiza and Zubeidaa. If her life is a tragic woman’s picture, than think of it as the part of the movie where the troubled heroine hides her broken heart and pours her passion into her art.
(She was also just luminous in Zubeidaa)
And then even the broken heart got fixed! In the best way possible, Karisma started dating the catch of the century, Abhishek Bachchan. Abhishek was only 24 when they got together, 2 years younger than her, and hadn’t even been launched yet. But he had the most promising future of any young actor, thanks to the love the Indian audience had for both his parents. And the Bachchan family was beyond reproach socially, upright and upperclass and clean living and close friends with the Gandhi family (the Nehru-Gandhi family, not the Mahatma Gandhi family. A very confusing thing to understand in Indian history!). For poor child of a broken home, forced to go out and work as a teenager Karisma, this was quite the step up.
(Look how happy she is!)
Until it all fell apart again. Like the Raj and Nargis break-up, there are various versions of what happened. But what everyone can agree on is that Jaya Bachchan is the one who ended it. Abhishek and Karisma were officially engaged, it was announced, wedding invites were being delivered. And then suddenly it was over and everyone somehow knows that Jaya is the one who ended it.
There are two theories I know of for what happened. Theory one was that Karisma just wasn’t the kind of daughter-in-law the Bachchan’s wanted. From a broken home, older, had been in a lot of movies and not the most respectable ones. And had an actress for a mother.
Theory two is that it went back to Shweta’s marriage. Babita, Karisma’s mother, was still on the outs with Randhir and didn’t want him invited to the wedding. If he didn’t come, all the Kapoors wouldn’t come. And that would cause big big issues in Shweta’s marriage, to a Kapoor.
However it happened, the end result was humiliation for Karisma. And she rebounded by marrying yet another respectable businessman, just like her aunts had, Sanjay Kapur (yes, it is the same last name, although it is spelled differently). Only he turned out to be not that respectable.
(Look how not-quite-so-happy she looks)
Sanjay was from an old Delhi business family. Before his marriage, he was most famous as a polo player. But there were already rumors of drugs and women. And the rumors just got worse post-marriage. Before their first child was born in 2005, Karisma went back to her mother’s home (as is normal in the last few months of pregnancy), but then the baby was born and she still didn’t leave. It looked like an attempt at an under the radar separation. Until she was invited to go to an India Day parade in America, and her husband filed a hold on taking their daughter out of the country, meaning she either had to reunite with him or leave her baby behind with him. Or skip out on her professional commitment. And she ended up going back to Delhi to live with him.
I only know that story because the India Day parade she was coming to was in my city so I was paying close attention. But over the years there were plenty of other stories like it, Karisma kept trying to leave and something or other always came up to pull her back. Her divorce FINALLY came through in 2016. But long before that, she had moved back to Bombay and the welcoming arms of her mother, sister, and father!
(Still a cute couple!)
Yes, Randhir and Babita reunited sometime around 2007. And shortly afterwards, Randhir returned to acting. In character father parts now, but it’s honest work. He also became more and more the “face” of the Kapoor family. Shammi and Shashi were increasingly elderly, and as the eldest son of the eldest son, Randhir was getting a second chance to take the lead, at least publicly. And if you follow the “alcoholism ruined his life” theory, I would also guess that he got clean at some point in the intervening years, which made Babita willing to go back to him and producers willing to work with him and the whole rest of the family a little more respectful.
Although, and this is just my personal theory, Kareena is the real heir the Kapoor family should be nourishing. Karisma has the talent and Kareena has the business head. And both girls were overlooked simply because they are girls. Even Karisma, who basically was born with a sign from God that she is the next Kapoor superstar, the only child to inherit her grandfather’s magical “light-colored” eyes, got no support or recognition. She was thrown into the business and made to sink or swim on her own. And, as soon as she had proven her talent and was perched on Superstardom, she was married off. Like I said, her life is a tragedy!
(The famous Kapoor blue eyes. Rarely seen, never forgotten)
But Kareena never let anyone turn her life into a tragedy. At first because she had her sister there to protect her. While Karisma was working long days in film after film, she made sure her little sister went to the most exclusive schools, got the best clothes and the best food, really just the best of everything. And while Karisma was thrown into film to survive at age 16, Kareena enjoyed a lavish launch at 20 after having complete her schooling, and received an intensive 3 month acting course.
(Look at the difference between how these two girls are dressed, and that tells you everything about their different childhoods)
Not only that, she got kind of a dream launch. Opposite Abhishek Bachchan, who was dating her sister at that point and was also in his first film, and with a big name director JP Dutta. But not too big, not too much pressure on them. And there was a nice big supporting cast of everyone from Anupum Kher to Suniel Shetty to Jackie Shroff to help carry the acting load. And it worked, the film was a nice solid success at the box office, not so big that it created unrealistic expectations, but also not so small as to be a disappointment.
The schooling, the training, the ability to have a launch, all of that was thanks to Karisma. But the choice of the launch movie, that was on Kareena. At age 19, she was offered Refugee opposite Abhishek Bachchan or Kaho Na Pyar Hai opposite Hrithik. She actually signed for Kaho Na Pyar Hai, but backed out because she thought too much attention would end up being given to the director’s son, and her role would suffer.
This seemed like a terrible decision. For one thing, if you are worried about being over-whelmed by your co-star, wouldn’t Amitabh Bachchan’s son be worse than some random Hrithik guy that no one had heard of? And then when Kaho Na Pyar Hai hit it big and Refugee just did medium business (not to mention the sizzling chemistry she later proved to have with Hrithik in their many other films together and which she could have had in her first film), again it looked like she had bet on the wrong horse.
But long term, she was absolutely right. Refugee was a great no pressure launch for her. Amisha Patel really did get over-looked in Kaho Na Pyar Hai and it never really gave her career the bounce that it could have. And putting her opposite Abhishek gave them both some nice publicity to help with the launch, based on his then-relationship with her family.
In the long-term, all of Kareena’s decisions have been correct. She has steered her career craft through rapids all alone and done it brilliantly. I’m not talking about avoiding flops, everyone will have those, but she never made the kind of damaging miss-steps we’ve seen from others in her family. No big string of films just for the money like her sister, no series of traumatizing flops and personal scandals like her cousin Ranbir, just smoooooooooth sailing. I would love to see what an RK studios run by Kareena and headlined by Karisma would have looked like. Oh well.
Part of Kareena’s long-term brilliance is in how she handled her personal life. While her sister was still following the “open secret” policy of dating, where everyone knew about it but you never admitted it, Kareena forged new ground. She openly talked about her relationship with Shahid Kapoor, they went on talk shows together and provided PDA to the media. Think like Ranveer Singh and Deepika are now.
And the public loved it! To have this bright young couple displaying their love for all to see, it was new and fresh and exciting. And it also helped a bit with the recurring rumors that she was having an affair with her married co-star in multiple films, Hrithik Roshan. That’s why they stopped co-starring for a while, and stopped even being seated next to each other at events, to nip those rumors in the bud. A young woman dating an age-appropriate fellow actor, that’s refreshing and adorable. A young woman dating her married co-star (who’s wife is an innocent young woman who has never acted), that is a whoooooole different kettle of fish.
Kareena was equally open about her break-up with Shahid. There was no awkward period where they pretended to still be friendly, no dancing around the issue with the media, we all pretty much knew immediately when they broke up. And we also knew immediately when she started dating Saif Ali Khan. Which kind of made that new relationship less shocking. Yes, he was Muslim, divorced with 2 kids, and ten years older than her. But if they didn’t act like there was anything to be ashamed of, then we wouldn’t believe there was anything to be ashamed of. And it worked! 5 years later they were married with all the pomp and circumstance India could provide.
And that’s it for the Randhir Kapoor branch! At least until Karisma’s kids are launched, which should be happening any day now. And also for Raj and Nargis, and the Nanda and Jain branches, again until the next generation is launched. Navya Naveli in particular has grown up surrounded by flashbulbs, wouldn’t be surprised to learn her first movie is coming out any day now.
(Here she is with her mother and Karan Johar. Notice how Navya and Karan are playing to the camera while Shweta is hiding from it a little. She never liked the attention)