There is no place on earth like Qissa Khawani Bazaar of Peshawar where, within a quarter of a kilometre, four super stars of Indian movies or their parents were born.
In the centre of Qissa Khawani Bazaar, a road goes up to a hill top area called Dhakki Nal Bandi where Prithviraj Kapoor was born. Opposite his house, Surendar Kapoor, father of famous film star Anil Kapoor lived. On the same Qissa Khawani Bazaar, adjacent to Dhakki Nalbandi, Mohalla Shah Wali Katal is situated which is famous for bamboo business. In this mohallah, Taj Mohammad lived who is father of famous filmstar Shahrukh Khan. At the end of Qissa Khawani Bazar, a road leads to Mohalla Khudadad where Dilip Kumar, the film legend of subcontinent was born.
In an article published in this newspaper in 2010, Sarwat Ali writes: “It is not quite explainable why some of the most outstanding actors have hailed from Peshawar. There were and are hardly any theatres and music or film studios to offer an easy explanation by drawing an equation between talent and opportunities available to hone it. These talented individuals had to look for opportunities outside their home province”
Peshawar of more than hundred years ago was a walled city with an overwhelming majority of Hindko-speaking peace loving people. Majority of Peshawarites were Muslims but a tiny influential minority was Hindus. Both communities lived in peace with each other. There were no theatres or musical clubs in the city. Peshawar remained the centre-stage of various religious movements. Syed Ahmad Shaheed Barelvi occupied Peshawar for a brief period by defeating the Sikhs. He established Qazi Courts in the city in order to enforce shariat laws.
During the Khilafat movement, a large number of Peshawarites sold their houses and belongings, and went to Afghanistan. The recent onslaught of Taliban is opposed to the fine arts of all sorts and they have wreaked destruction in this regard.
Pirthviraj Kapoor was born in Peshawar in 1906. His grandfather Dewan Keshavmal had moved to Peshawar from Samundri, a village of Punjab, near Faisalabad and was a Tehsildar. Prithviraj’s father Dewan Basheshwarnath Kapoor was a police officer and was posted at Kabuli Police station at the beginning of Qissa Khawani Bazaar. Prithviraj’s mother died when he was a child and his father remarried and moved to Samundri to live with his mother’s family.
He moved back to Peshawar to live with his father who had constructed a three-storeyed house at Dhakki Nalbandi. He went to attend National High School, currently Government Shaheed Usama Zafar Centennial Model High School No2, Peshawar situated near Hashtnagri Gate. Most of the Hindu population of Peshawar used to attend this school. After matriculation, he joined Edwardes College Peshawar, the most prestigious college of this province. He was a member of college’s drama club and found satisfaction in acting for college plays. Sheikh Allah Bakhsh, who later became advocate of Peshawar High Court, was a classfellow of Pirthviraj. He has narrated that an English Principal of Edwardes College who used to teach them saw Prithviraj and mentioned that he had the potential of a great actor in him.
Prithviraj’s father did not like the idea of him adopting acting as career but, with the support of his parental uncle, he went to Bombay with Rs75 rupees in his pocket. His father wanted him to become a lawyer but Prithviraj Kapoor had other plans. He married in Peshawar and his in-laws lived in a house at Dabgari area. The house is now used as a dispensary.
A landlord of Mardan, Fateh Mohammad Khan, established a hockey team in Peshawar called as “Khan Club”. Abdul Rashid Kiyani, a friend of Prithviraj, was its captain and Raj also played hockey for this club.
His three sons including Raj Kapoor were born in Peshawar; two of them died in their infancy. His son Shami Kapoor was born in 1929 in Bombay while Shashi Kapoor was born in 1938 in Calcutta and is still alive. Later, Basheshwarnath also went to Bombay by handing over his house to his relatives. This house was acquired by a goldsmith Abdul Qadir and currently the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has declared it as national heritage.
Nasirullah Jan, a retired government engineer, who lives in Peshawar went to India fourteen times and met film stars at Bombay. Shahrukh Khan’s father Taj Muhammad and Anil Kapoor’s father Surendar Kapoor were his personal friends. Nasirullah Jan’s grandfather was a police officer who was a close friend of Basheshwarnath and both worked together at the Kabuli police station. Nasirullah Jan met Raj Kapoor in 1986 at R.K. Studio in Bombay because of old family terms and the latter is said to have met him very warmly.
He told Nasirullah Jan that his father Prithviraj used to remember Peshawar and, in an interview with the All India Radio, he had wished that at the time of his burial, dust from Peshawar should be brought and put on his dead body. This wish of his was fulfilled, he said. Raj Kapoor also told Nasirullah that he had gone to Samundri village twice with his father.
Acting was not considered a respectable profession in Peshawar. Dilip Kumar’s father Ghulam Sarwar Khan used to run a dry fruit shop at Cowford Market in Bombay. Basheshwarnath used to visit him as they were friends and belonged to the same area in Peshawar. According to Raj Kapoor, Ghulam Sarwar Khan used to jokingly tease him about his son’s acting career. One day Basheshwarnath visited him and showed him the poster of film Jawar Bhata in which Ghulam Sarwar Khan’s son, Yousaf Khan (Dilip Kumar) appeared as a hero. Sarwar Khan became upset and did not talk to his son for some time.
Prithviraj Kapoor established a dynasty. He worked hard against all odds to fulfill his ambition of acting.
Sarwat Ali writes “All three sons started their life in this familial academy where they saw plays and films being made. They did not have to step outside the family for education and training in show business. This was very different from the environment that Prithviraj had grown up in. For him joining film and stage was a rebellious act while for his children it was the most natural act to follow.”
It looks strange how all these famous actors moved from Peshawar. Unfortunately, the Peshawar of today is worse than that of 100 years back where bomb explosions, target killing, and violence are the order of the day.