Rahul Gandhi and Kareena Kapoor’s interest in each other looked like an extension of Indira’s plan for Rajiv’s marriage

Neta Abhineta
Bollywood Star Power in Indian Politics
Book Excerpt 

The most important name that comes to mind when considering actors-turned-politicians of a certain generation is that of Prithviraj Kapoor, the patriarch of the Kapoor clan and a staunch Congressman. About the same age as Jawaharlal Nehru, he shared the latter’s ideals. At Prithvi Theatres, the Bombay-based travelling theatre he had founded in 1944, Kapoor would play out the socialist vision and ideals of secular society. Both Nehru and his daughter Indira had great respect and admiration for the Kapoor family. In The Kapoors: The First Family of Indian Cinema, Madhu Jain recounts how Indira had even contemplated a matrimonial alliance between her first-born Rajiv and Raj Kapoor’s elder daughter Ritu. Jain writes that it was not as if Indira Gandhi was star-struck or looking for a daughter-in-law with Bollywood antecedents. Her deep regard and respect for the Kapoor name was less related to its widespread renown (thanks, partly, to the popularity of Raj Kapoor’s film Awara), not only in India, but in the Soviet Union, China, North Africa and South Asia, than to the rapport between the two families that went all the way back to Prithviraj’s association with her grandfather Motilal Nehru. The ‘dream alliance’ between her son and Raj Kapoor’s daughter would come to naught, however; while Rajiv was away at Cambridge for higher studies, he met Sonia Maino and fell in love with her. They were married in 1968.

Years later, with speculation arising over Rajiv’s son Rahul’s interest in Ritu’s actress niece Kareena Kapoor, it seemed as if the Kapoor–Gandhi matrimonial alliance so dear to Indira’s heart might actually become a reality. Rahul was allegedly so keen on the actress that he would seek first-day first-show tickets to watch her films. Kareena was single then and P.P. Madhavan, Rahul’s close aide at the time, was of the view that the Gandhi scion’s ‘initial’ interest in the actress had been triggered by the utterances of Kareena herself during an appearance in early 2002 on the popular TV show Rendezvous with Simi Garewal. As reported in the 7 March 2002 issue of the Times of India, the conversation between Garewal and her guest went as follows:

Simi: What about marriage?
Kareena: I don’t have the time to get married right now. I cannot give up my career for a man. I’m going to concentrate solely on my work for the next five years at least.
Simi: If there was one man in the whole world that you could date, who would you choose?
Kareena: Shall I say this? I don’t know whether I should... it’s controversial... Rahul Gandhi... I don’t mind getting to know him. I’ve seen his pictures... and have thought what it would be like to get to know him... I come from a film lineage, he comes from a political lineage... so maybe we’d make interesting conversation.

By 2009, Kareena had partly retracted her statements. During the making of Omkara, the petite actress, while talking to the media about her size-zero figure and much-hyped love life, was asked about her earlier statement regarding her interest in dating Rahul Gandhi. According to the 23 May 2009 issue of the Times of India, she replied, ‘That was a long time back. I said that because we both have famous surnames. I would love to host him someday and see him as our prime minister, but definitely I do not want to date him.’

The relations between the Nehru–Gandhis and the Kapoors have endured over generations. Nehru, who had often relied on Prithviraj Kapoor’s services for ‘cultural diplomacy’, sent him on one such mission to South East Asia. And his association with the Kapoors was such an abiding one that when the Prime Minister met Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator is supposed to have plied him with questions about Raj Kapoor and his film Awara. In her book, Raj Kapoor Speaks, the actor’s daughter Ritu quotes Nehru asking her grandfather Prithviraj, ‘What is this vagabond [Awara] that your son has made? Stalin was talking about it all the time.’

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Like his father, Raj Kapoor was a great admirer of Nehru and had almost succeeded in featuring the Prime Minister on screen. The movie was Ab Dilli Dur Nahin (1957) and Vishwa Mehra, a Kapoor relative working with R.K. Films, insisted that Nehru had agreed to appear in it. ‘Rajji [Raj Kapoor] had met Panditji [Nehru]. The film was about a boy who goes to see Chacha Nehru with a letter for him, hoping to get his innocent father released from jail. The episode was to be shot in Teen Murti [the Prime Minister’s official residence in New Delhi at the time]. But then, others advised the Prime Minister not to appear in a film.’

At some level, the close connection between the Gandhis and the Kapoors appears spontaneous and natural. In her book on the Kapoors, Madhu Jain points out that the Nehru–Gandhis and the Kapoors represent two dynasties ruling the country’s popular imagination. ‘While the political family impinges on our public lives’ she writes, ‘the show business originals inveigle themselves into our intimate lives and fantasies, feeding our notion of romance and even our notions of history. Akbar, historians tell us, was barely five feet tall, but after K. Asif’s 1960 epic Mughal-e-Azam, many people began to believe that the great Mughal was tall and imposing, with a booming voice – like Prithviraj Kapoor who played him so memorably in the film.’ Jain claims that both the Kapoors and the Gandhis made concerted efforts to lay the foundations for their heirs. ‘Indira Gandhi was as different from her father as Raj Kapoor and his brothers Shammi and Shashi were from theirs,’ writes the author. ‘Idealism had lost some of its shine by the time they took up the reins. By the time the Gandhis were represented by Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi and the Kapoors by Randhir and Rishi Kapoor, the heroic was no longer in vogue, nor were patriarchs. It was time for pragmatism.’

***

Prithviraj Kapoor is long gone and even his sons have passed away. But the Kapoor dynasty has endured and only grown stronger with time. It has gained in popularity and touched new pinnacles of success, with each generation giving the entertainment industry several ‘superstars’. From Raj Kapoor to his grandson Ranbir, the family has left its imprint on Indian cinema, an integral part of Indian society that continues to have as much of an influence on its people as any policy or policy-maker. While the Kapoors’ ties with the Nehru–Gandhis are not as clearly visible as they were a few generations ago, both families occupy a prominent position today in the highest echelons of society and any news about them is likely to spark public interest across the country.

[Excerpted from the chapter 'Dynasties and the Undying Link between Cinema and Politics']

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