Prithviraj Kapoor was born on November 3, 1906 at Samundri, near the town of Lyallpur (now known as Faisalabad) in Punjab, to a middle-class family belonging to the Khatri caste of Hindus. Prithviraj could speak Hindi, Hindko, and Pashto. His father was a Sub Inspector of Police at Peshawar. Prithviraj after finishing his schooling at Lyllapur and Lahore, he got admitted in Edward College, Peshawar. He was married at 18 to Ramsarni Mehta. He then did a year of law after graduation but interrupted his law studies to pursue his career in theatre and films. Prof. Jai Dayal, a member of the faculty at the university, was instrumental in nurturing his talent. The Indian professor was in love with an English lady by name Nora Richard, who had a fascination for Shakespeare and Ibsen. The couple found Prithviraj the perfect one for many roles in the plays they mounted. This was his grounding in the art of the theatre. In 1928, with the help of a loan from his aunt, Prithviraj moved to the city of Bombay, which is the hub of the Hindi film industry. In 1930, Ramsarni joined Prithviraj in Bombay.
Prithviraj got his first break in the Hindi film industry with a silent film Be Dhari Talwar (1929). He did a few more silent films like Sher-e-Arab (1930), Cinema Girl (1930) and Draupadi (1931). In Alam Ara (1931), India’s first film talkie, Prithviraj did a supporting role. He then joined the Grant Anderson Theatre Company performing Shakespeare in English, winning special acclaim for his role of Laertes in Hamlet. The turning point in Prithviraj's life came when he shifted to New Theatres, Calcutta in 1933. He worked in Rajrani Meera (1933) and then in Debaki Bose's Seeta (1934). He mainly acted in their Hindi versions with Durgadas Banerjee, often playing the same role in the Bengali version. Prithviraj appeared in some of the best films of New Theatres like Manzil (1936), President (1937) and his crowning glory Vidyapathi (1937. His performance was widely appreciated. Chandulal Shah hired Prithviraj for Ranjit Movietone where he worked from 1938 - 1940. He appeared in Sapera (1939), Adhuri Kahani (1940) and in a couple of other film. His best known film with Ranjit was Pagal (1940), where he played a psychotic doctor in an asylum. Prithviraj’s best-known performance was in Sohrab Modi’s Sikandar (1941) wherein he played Alexander the Great. Through all these years Prithviraj remained devoted to the theatre and performed on stage regularly. He developed a reputation as a fine actor on both stage and screen. Ek Raat (1942) and Chauranghee (1942) failed to do well, while Gauri (1943) was a commercial success. In 1945, Prithviraj did three films viz. Vikramaditya, Phool and Devdasi, among which only Phool was a hit. He then acted in a few more films in the late 40s which flopped. These included Valmiki (1946) and Azadi Ki Raah Par (1948). Prithviraj then did V.Shantaram's Dahej (1950) and his son, Raj Kapoor's Awara (1951). The latter starring Prithviraj and Raj as father and son was perhaps Raj Kapoor's finest film. The film and its title song ‘Awaara Hoon…’ broke all box-office records in the Middle-East being dubbed in Turkish, Persian and Arabic. The film also swept Russia where it was called Bradyaga (Vagabond). Raj Kapoor and Nargis became superstars in Russia. When they visited Russia, bands played Awaara Hoon at airports. A puppet show by a leading Russian puppeteer had, in its final play, puppets representing Raj Kapoor and Nargis! Anand Math (1951) was a semi-hit, while Prithviraj’s other films like Pardesi (1957) and Lajwanti (1958) failed to do well. While making his directorial debut in Paisa (1957), he lost his voice which sadly never regained its full sonorousness. Subsequently he closed Prithvi Theatre and reduced his film work. Mughal-E-Azam (1960) was the movie in which Prithviraj gave his most memorable performance as the mughal emperor Akbar. It also starred Dilip Kumar and Madhubala. The movie became an all-time blockbuster. Recently it was re-released in color. Prithviraj again gave a strong performance in Harishchandra Taramati (1963). In 1964, he had four releases. Ramanand Sagar’s Zindagi as well as Rajkumar were big hits, while Jahan Ara and Gazal flopped. Again in 1965, Prithviraj had many releases. Sikandar-E-Azam and Janwar were big hits, while Lutera had failed to do well. Aasmaan Mahal (1965) saw another memorable performance from Prithviraj as an old Nawab who refuses the wealth offered by capitalists who want to turn his mansion into a hotel. This movie won Prithviraj laurels at International Film Festivals. Among his later films, Teen Bahuraniyaan (1968) and Kal Aaj Aur Kal (1971) gained success. The latter was directed by grandson Randhir Kapoor (son of Raj Kapoor). The film dealth with the generation gap between grandfather and grandson with the son trapped in between both. Interestingly Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor and Randhir Kapoor enacted the main roles. By now however his health had deteriorated and he completed the dubbing from his hospital bed. He had also played the patriachal head in the Punjabi film Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai (1969). This film revived the Punjabi film industry in India as it was a huge success. Prithviraj was then seen in a few more films including Gunaah Aur Kanoon (1970) and Heer Ranjha (1970).
Prithviraj Kapoor was the son of Dewan Basheswarnath Kapoor, Father of Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor, Grandfather of Randhir Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Rajiv Kapoor, Karan Kapoor, Kunal Kapoor and Sanjana Kapoor, and the Great-grandfather of Karisma Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor. He was considered the most handsome Indian actor of Pre-Independence India and the founder of India's first film family, the Kapoors. By the time Prithviraj moved to Bombay in 1928, the couple had three children. In 1930, Ramsarni joined Prithviraj in Bombay. The following year, while she was pregnant again, the couple suffered the tragic loss of two of their three children within a week’s time. One of their children, Devi, died of double pneumonia while the other child, Nandi, died of poisoning in a freak incident when he swallowed some rat-poison pills strewn in the garden. In 1944, he invested in and set up Prithvi Theatre. He was the first to use the concept of modern, professional urban theater in Hindustani. In over 16 years of its existence under Prithviraj Kapoor, the theater did some 2,662 shows, with Prithviraj starring as the lead actor in every single show. He did one play every alternate day for 16 years! In fact Prithviraj Kapoor was so committed to Prithvi that when Jawaharlal Nehru wanted him to lead a cultural delegation abroad he said he couldn't due to Prithvi's engagements. When Nehru asked him why he didn't have an understudy to play his roles, Prithviraj replied he knew another person who did not have any understudy amd that person's role was far more important than his. Who, asked Nehru. You, Prithviraj replied. Some of Prithvi's well known plays include Deewaar, Pathan (1947), Gaddar (1948) and Paisa (1954) - which he directed as a film in 1957. Prithvi Theatre also launched many new talents such as Ramanand Sagar, Shankar-Jaikishen and Ram Ganguly. He acted in India's first ever talkie Alam Ara (1931), although not in the lead role, which was given instead to Master Vithal. Both Prithviraj and Ramsarni suffered from cancer in their declining years and died within a fortnight of each other. Prithviraj died on May 29, 1972 and his wife on 14 June, 1972. His son, Shashi, has revived Prithvi Theatre in his honour, a most befitting tribute for someone whose motto was - The show must go on... Prithviraj Kapoor's descendants have contributed richly to the Hindi film industry and he is thus known as the Patriarch of the 'first family of Hindi films.'
In 1969, Prithviraj was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India. Prithviraj Kapoor was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Awar