Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra launched two promising new faces in his recently-released period spectacle Mirzya. Unfortunately for the debutante star kids, Harshvardhan Kapoor and Saiyami Kher, the film bombed. For the youngsters, the beginning may be tentative but not all is lost. Despite the film’s poor showing Harshvardhan Kapoor, for one, is already anointed as the Next Big Thing. In the Hindi film industry, the general perception is that those with famous surnames have it easy. Those with the backing of a dynasty have it far easier. In the run up to Mirzya, you may have noticed that the media had mostly sidelined the film’s heroine Saiyami Kher while Anil Kapoor’s son Harshvardhan, with designer stubble and eclectic fashion sense firmly in place, was dubbed a star even before he could qualify for the title.
Saiyami, who’s the granddaughter of renowned actress Usha Kiran, also hails from a film family. But it was obvious from the start that it is Harshvardhan with his family pedigree and multiple calling cards as Anil Kapoor’s son, Boney Kapoor’s nephew and Sonam Kapoor and Arjun Kapoor’s brother, who would be the more attractive and marketable of the two.
The 25-year-old Harshvardhan is the latest in a long line of Kapoors – the ‘Other’ Kapoors – that were once looked down by the elite Bollywood circle as the country cousins of the Original Kapoors (Raj, Shammi and Shashi Kapoor and family). But tables in Bollywood turn quickly. Sometimes, it may take one Friday or as in the case of the Kapoors, it’s taken the collective efforts of three generations.
For the Kapoors of Chembur, Surinder Kapoor is the paterfamilias – the Moses who parted the Bollywood sea for the kids to ensure safe passage. An ultimate Bollywood insider, he was secretary to Shammi Kapoor’s wife Geeta Bali and by some accounts, also moonlighted for Shammi. Surinder had a hard-scrabble life. Sons Boney, Anil and Sanjay were brought up in relative poverty. One upside of the Chembur childhood could be that it informed much of Anil’s early and mid-work. His tapori act (did someone say ‘Jhakas’?) and the ‘Bombaiya’ touch in several of his 90s hits, including Tezaab and Ram Lakhan, may have something to do with the experience of his lower middle-class Chembur upbringing.
Meanwhile, the elder brother Boney went on to become a successful producer and married Sridevi whose arrival into the family as a bride further strengthened the Kapoor brand. Comparatively, the youngest, Sanjay Kapoor had more misses than hits, in spite of the fact that he could very well be the most talented Kapoor. A colourful raconteur, those who know him swear by his street-smart humour. Unfortunately, he could not channel his real-life funny self into his films. Starting out as a hero he later switched tracks, but even the baddie roles could not salvage his career. Ultimately, following elder brother Boney’s path, he turned producer but with limited success.
Now, coming to the young brigade of the Kapoor clan. Sonam Kapoor was the first among the siblings to hit it big. Though a lousy actor she has branded herself as a style icon. Fashion glossies adore her. She does more covers than films, but if that helps you be in the public eye, who cares! Arjun Kapoor (Boney’s son from his first wife) came next, with Ishaqzaade in 2012. Since then, he has consolidated his position as a bankable star. He could well be the least polished Kapoor but it seems talent counts for little, if his success is anything to go by. If you think Harshvardhan is the Last Kapoor Standing you can’t be more wrong. More Kapoors are coming in. And you may find it hard to keep up with them. Boney and Sridevi’s daughter Jhanvi Kapoor is already making heads turn with her star quality, sex appeal and good looks.
Most people have a misconception that the Kapoors are related. This could be because the Kapoor patriarchs – Prithviraj and Surinder Kapoor – hail from Peshawar and at one point, both families lived in Chembur. Sanjay Kapoor often talks about his growing up years with Raj Kapoor’s sons Rajiv and Randhir Kapoor, leading to further confusions. “We were so connected with the Kapoors that Dabboo (Randhir Kapoor) would joke that we are related via satellite,” Sanjay once remarked in an interview.
While the First Family of Bollywood has grown like a tree, spreading their roots everywhere (they are even related to the Bachchans by marriage) the Other Kapoors are fast catching up. For every Ranbir Kapoor who’s leading the charge there’s Sonam, Arjun and now Harshvardhan who are diversifying the family business from the other side. They are all urbane and cinema-savvy boys who have studied abroad (Harshvardhan went to a Californian university to study screenwriting) and are bringing American ethics to their work. Harshvardhan may have debuted with a commercial fare but is inclined towards the radical cinema of Anurag Kashyap, Anand Gandhi and Sriram Raghavan. The girls, on the other hand, are the taste-makers of the family. Anil and Sanjay married affluent women, Sunita and Maheep respectively, who changed their life for the better it seems. A fashion diva, Sonam along with mom Sunita is credited with improving her Slumdog Millionaire dad’s sartorial sense. In fact, the key difference between the two Kapoor families may well lie not in their men, but their women. It’s worth pointing out that, unlike Raj Kapoor, Anil and family are not too conservative and have allowed their girls to work in Bollywood. On the other hand, it is believed that Babita had to battle stiff opposition from the Kapoor men to get Kareena and Karisma Kapoor into the movies.
(Shaikh Ayaz is a writer and journalist based in Mumbai. He also paints.)