My almost final Kapoor post! Yaaaay! I figured I couldn’t be done with the family without dealing with their distant relations, “the other Kapoors”. Or, as I think of it, the Surinder Kapoor family. (If you want to read the other posts, I have finally given in and created a Hindi Film 101 area of the menu here)
Surinder Kapoor arrived in Bombay in the late 40s/early 50s. I’ve never been clear on how exactly he was related to Prithviraj Kapoor. But they were related in some way. 3rd or 4th cousins, or maybe just members of the same community back in Peshawar. Enough that Prithviraj was happy to introduce him around and help him find work, even let him live in their house for a bit. But not really truly part of their family, not “one of them”.
This is me reading between the lines quite a bit, but I always get this vague sense of “poor relations” from how the Surinder Kapoor family interacts with the Prithviraj Kapoor family. Which is funny, because what with the national upheaval around independence and everything else, both families arrived in Bombay with nothing. But I have a vague feeling that the Prithviraj Kapoor clan felt, and feels, slightly better than the Surinder Kapoors, just because they were more established in Bombay sooner. Or perhaps because they were landed gentry back in Peshawar and the Surinder Kapoor family was something a little less than that?
Anyway, Surinder Kapoor arrived in Bombay in the 50s and lived off the Raj Kapoor’s for a while until he found his feet. His first real job was also through a Kapoor connection, acting as Geeta Bali’s private secretary, Geeta being a major star and also Shammi Kapoor’s wife/future wife.
“Secretary” has a different meaning for the Hindi film industry than it does in America. It is your manager, your agent, your everything. A very responsible and powerful position. But at the same time, it is still an employee. Again, I have to wonder if that vague sense of “poor relations” between the Raj Kapoors and Surinder Kapoors is related back to this time, when he worked at the beck and call of a Kapoor wife.
But if you aren’t part of the Royal Family of Indian Film, being a secretary is a pretty respectable job and an excellent jumping off point for a higher position. You get to meet and make connections with all the leading figures of film and see the inner workings of the industry. It’s how Mahesh Bhatt got his start when he was a young man struggling just to make a living, and he ended up being the head of one of the most successful film studios in India, respected by all. Surinder Kapoor similarly was able to turn hardwork and an ability to learn into independent success.
And also loyalty. The Surinder Kapoor family, to this day, expresses gratitude and appreciate for all that Geeta Bali did when they were just starting out. She encouraged Surinder to branch out on his own, and possibly provided the start up funds that allowed him to break free of the “employee” status and move on to “producer”.
Of course, the problem in Hindi film is that “producer” may be above secretary, but it is still far far below “star”. And a producer with no star connections is always left begging for support for his next film. Surinder finally got his first film made thanks to Rajesh Khanna, then the biggest star in India, agreeing to be in the film and forgo his payment until after release.
That movie, Shehzada, came out in 1972 when Surinder’s 3 sons Boney, Anil, and Sanjay were 19, 16, and 7. While Sanjay may not remember the early years, Boney and Anil are more than capable of remembering back when their father was just a secretary on the outskirts of film trying to scrape up enough cash to become a producer.
8 years later, when he was only 27, Boney officially produced his first film. Surinder’s company had made two more films in the intervening 8 years (standard for producers back in those days, it took at least 2 years to get the money and talent in place for a film, and as long as 10 years between successful productions wouldn’t be unheard of). But Surinder’s two films had been flops. It was only when his oldest son officially joined with them that they had another hit, Hum Paanch. Shabana Azmi starred in it, starting a long term relationship of friendship and mutual respect between the Azmi-Akhtar family and the Surinder Kapoor family. The two flops both featured a Raj Kapoor son, Randhir in the first and Rishi in the second, indicating that relationship continued as well.
(Here she is, with Javed, standing by at a Kapoor family funeral)
While Surinder and Boney slaved away keeping the production house alive, Anil went a different way. After bouncing around the Hindi industry in small parts and the regional industries in larger ones, in 1984 Anil finally hit it big as a major Hindi star in Mashaal, directed by Yash Chopra. This made a radical change to the Kapoor family fortunes in general. Suddenly, they had their own “in house” star to keep the family productions afloat.
Of course, Anil couldn’t maintain his stardom just by working in his family’s films. And so Anil worked marathon schedules keeping up his popularity and star power while Boney and Surinder worked in the background pulling together funds and casts and scripts for the “home productions” they would release every few years.
Again, this is just my impression, but it feels like the Surinder Kapoor family is much more cohesive in how it views its family studio. It’s not about one film here or there with Anil as a star, it’s about all of them moving forward together, rising as a group. Anil is the famous “face” of the family, and Boney is the official “business head”, but in reality they are all working together as one person, part of Anil’s fame is thanks to Boney, and part of Boney’s business success is thanks to Anil.
(The 80s were not an attractive time)
And their home life is a reflection of that. I already mentioned in his birthday post how Anil got married right as he became famous. What I didn’t mention is that he managed to be an involved and present father through out his children’s childhood, even as he kept up a punishing filming schedule. At least, that is my impression. Not the kind of complicated and distant relations of the Raj Kapoors and their children.
And again, it feels like maybe class is a factor? The Raj Kapoors are very high class, whether we are talking about their estate in Peshawar or their life in Bombay. It’s boarding schools and nannies and mothers who go to parties. But with the Surinder Kapoors, it feels more like family dinners and trips to Disneyland and everyone knowing everyone else’s business.
(Baby Sonam and Rhea are SO CUTE!)
Just as Anil was raising a family, so was Boney. He was married around the same time as Anil to a woman outside of the film industry, and he brought her back to live with his parents in a traditional “combined family” household. They had two children and lived a normal quiet family life at home. Arjun and Sonam, along with their sisters, were raised together and are closer than usual cousins because of it.
Until, in the mid-90s, the Surinder Kapoor family hit the first scandal of their 4 decades in the film industry. Boney Kapoor had set up a bit of a business of buying southern films and remaking them. It was a smart business move, he could find films with a proven success record and repackage them in a way that would work for a national audience. Usually with his brother as a star.
Perhaps as part of this southern repackaging, he also started working with Sridevi, who was of course the biggest female star the south had seen. Sridevi was 24 when their first film together came out, Mr. India, but they had known each other before then, I’m not clear for how many years or how long.
Sridevi kept working with the Kapoor family off and on, in films Boney produced or co-starring with Anil. And in some ways, they kind of adopted her. She was up from the south, didn’t know many people in Bombay, and the Kapoors are friendly people.
I don’t have these details about Sridevi in particular, but I know with Madhuri there was a whole family effort put in to making her a star. This is from an old reprinted interview Anupama Chopra did back in the early 90s, about how the Kapoors spotted her talent, and her good chemistry with Anil, and helped her with make-up, clothes, interviews, all of that. Think of it as “human investment”. And also simple humanity. If they can build a relationship with someone, and build that person up into a major star, then the whole family will benefit from the relationship. Plus, like I said, they seem to be nice people who might enjoy helping out a newcomer just because they are nice.
According to rumor and story, that is what happened with Sridevi. She would stay at the Kapoor family home off and on while filming in Bombay, she turned to them for support in times of trouble, it wasn’t just Boney the producer and Anil the star that she knew, she also knew their wives and kids and the whole family took her in.
They stood by her during her little Mithun Chakraborty scandal too. Now, this is one of those scandals that everyone seems to know, but it is impossible to find firm reliable confirmation. What is confirmed is that Mithun already had a bit of a scandal in his life, his wife Yogeeta Bali was already married to Kishore Kumar when they fell in love. She left Kishore for him, and Kishore refused to sing for Mithun again. And then in the mid to late 80s, he and Sridevi started doing a bunch of pictures together, and all of a sudden it was rumored that he was leaving Yogeeta for her.
Finally, around 1988 (right around the time Mr. India came out), it came to a head with rumors that Mithun had secretly taken Sridevi as his second wife. Whether or not these rumors were true, it was certainly a tough time in Sridevi’s career, and the Kapoor family stood by her and helped her out.
And then, after all of this, all this loyalty and closeness and everything else, in 1995 it was announced that Sridevi was pregnant, and oh yes, the father was Boney. And they were married.
The timeline is a little wonky on this depending on who you ask. They were absolutely definitely legally married, and he was absolutely definitely legally divorced from his first wife Mona, by the time the baby (Jhanvi, whose launch rumors are swirling around now) was born in 1997. But it’s not clear when Boney and Sridevi first got together, and when exactly the divorce went through and the marriage happened. But it was definitely very messy.
The messiest version is that Boney never wanted his wife in the first place. According to some versions, he fell in love with Sridevi way back when she was a teenager. He saw her onscreen and flew down to Chennai to talk to her and ask her to be in a movie. She was shy and unsure and sent him back to Bombay. According to all versions, they didn’t have a relationship at this point of any kind beyond him worshiping her from afar.
(I think that’s super young Yash Chopra on the other side of her)
But, according to some versions, this worship began way back in the late 70s and continued through out his first marriage. In fact, in the most extreme version, he had to be talked into marrying Mona in 1984 because he was still hopelessly besotted with Sridevi. And, again in the most extreme version, his devotion was such that Mithun made Sridevi tie a “rakhi” on him to make him her brother, because Mithun was jealous (this is if you buy both the Mithun-Sridevi romance rumor and the “Boney was always in love with Sridevi” theory).
From a meta side of things, I find it interesting that this “Boney was always in love with Sridevi” story was sent around, whether or not it is actually true. Because if the public believes it was a “first love” kind of situation, then Mona and their whole marriage was just a mistake, and Boney and Sridevi were always meant to be. Plus, then Sridevi isn’t the evil vixen breaking up a marriage, but rather the innocent who can’t help it that Boney was in love with her all along.
I also wonder if maybe it is this version of the story that got so much under Mona Kapoor’s skin? Because this is not the kind of “oh, he can’t help falling in love, we forgive him and find a way to get along” sort of first wife relationship that you saw with Dharmendra or Salim Khan (eventually), there is something here that really stung, and continues to sting years later. To have your husband start spreading a story that your marriage and children never “really” mattered to him after all, and this second marriage is his “real” romance, that would hurt.
Or it could just be that Sridevi had been taken into their home and their family, and repaid them all by breaking up Boney’s marriage. What is clear is that this divorce was a BIG THING. More on the private side of things than the public. Like I said, the Kapoors were just a nice family. Came home and played with their kids every night kind of family. And when a nice normal family has a divorce like this, one that is all tied up with infidelity and heartbreak, it hurts.
(Mona. A nice woman with her kids. There aren’t even that many photos of her available on the internet, she just wasn’t that kind of person and didn’t live that kind of life)
And so Boney left his wife and moved in with, well, (I hate this term but in this case it is accurate) his mistress. His pregnant mistress. And the most telling part of the whole divorce to me is that Boney’s own parents took Mona’s side over his. Mona continued to live in their house with them, and her children, while Boney was sent into exile with Sridevi. Anil Kapoor and his children continued to be close to Boney’s kids with Mona (more so than they seem to be with his daughters with Sridevi), and to Mona herself. Even the film industry, not the glitzy party side of it but they lifetime connections and our kids play together kind of side of it, seemed to take Mona’s side over Boney’s.
So, that’s the big scandal of “The Other Kapoors”! The one no one really talks about. Not because it is so terrible, or they are afraid of what might happen, but because it’s just kind of sad. The family still isn’t fully over it. If you read interviews, it is clear that while Boney and Anil and Arjun and them all may work together, they no longer share their families. Arjun specifies that he sees his father “at the office” and never at his home with his second wife and daughters. Anil is rarely seen with his new sister-in-law, and isn’t it kind of remarkable that Sonam, Harshvardhan, and Arjun were all launched without assistance from their super-famous aunt/stepmother?
And then it got even sadder a few years ago when Mona died. But I am getting ahead of myself! And, oh my goodness, I skipped Sanjay entirely! Sanjay, the youngest Kapoor brother, briefly looked like he was going to be the biggest star of them all. For a few years, really more like several months, back in the early 90s, he was riding high! Madhuri had been passed through the family to land as his heroine, and her effervescents and his fresh looks made Raja, his second film, into a major hit.
And then it all kind of slipped away for no particular reason, the way it sometimes does. His next films didn’t hit in the same way, the public lost interest, and now he is just “the other Kapoor brother”, showing up in small parts in films like Shaandaar. But, you know, it’s honest work! And he is still contributing in his own small way to the family. He also turned out to be the Kapoor with the lowest profile, after his grand launch. While Boney will always be known for his personal scandal, and for his job as “Mr. Sridevi”, escorting her and her daughters around to public events, and Anil will always be known for his own fame, Sanjay just kind of slipped out of sight.
(I love this photo. I may have to have it framed for my desk. They are all so cool!)
Okay, I am going to split this here, just to make it easier to find the information in future. But I am going to put up a rare “part 2” post this afternoon, just because I am determined to finish off the Kapoors for good this week!