The passing away of entrepreneur Ritu Nanda, Raj Kapoor’s oldest child and Prithviraj Kapoor’s oldest grandchild, marks the end of an era that will be remembered for the contributions that both the Kapoor and Nanda families made to post-Independence India.
Prithviraj Kapoor was a staunch Congressman. About the same age as Jawaharlal Nehru, he shared the political leader’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, author Madhu Jain recounts how Indira had even contemplated a matrimonial alliance between her firstborn Rajiv and 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, and more 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.
Ritu had an arranged marriage with Rajan Nanda, son of Harry Nanda who was one of the first Punjabi industrialists in Delhi after Independence. Prithviraj was very involved at Ritu’s wedding and participated fully in the celebrations although by then he was in poor health.
The Kapoors too were an immigrant Punjabi family from Peshawar, who had to struggle initially in Mumbai. The marriage symbolised how far the family had come in life. It was a totally arranged marriage but Ritu fitted in perfectly as the wife of an industrialist. She was not a cafe society woman but was involved in the life insurance business. Ritu was a one-window insurance adviser for top Bollywood personalities. She had figured in the Guinness World Records for reportedly selling 17,000 pension plan policies in a single day. She also authored three books on her father.
In the initial years – the late 1960s and early 1970s – Ritu and Rajan had more than a passing acquaintance with Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi. But the souring of the relationship with Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan meant that the Nandas could not welcome Sonia who did not attend the wedding of Nikhil to Shweta Bachchan, Ritu’s daughter-in-law.
Some sources close to the Gandhis and Bachchans attribute the break between the two families to the confusion over wedding dates of Shweta and Priyanka Gandhi. Priyanka got married to Robert Vadra on February 18, 1997 while Amitabh’s daughter got married on the 17th, a day before. Family insiders say that Priyanka's wedding announcement had been made much in advance, while Shweta’s was a ‘chat mangni-pat viwah’, with the engagement announced in December of 1996.
The Shweta-Nikhil Nanda match was promoted by fashion designers Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla who are friends of both the Nandas and Bachchans. There was a view that February 17 was chosen deliberately by the Bachchans, as if to overshadow Priyanka’s big day. There was much confusion among common guests like Lalit Suri and Amitabh himself having to rush to Delhi for Priyanka’s early morning ceremony on the 18th, after late-night celebrations in Bombay hours earlier.
In later years, Rajan and Ritu Nanda kept away from the three-ring circus that Amitabh’s relationship with Amar Singh and Anil Ambani, had very publicly become, and made very few public appearances with the Bachchans although when Ajitabh’s daughter Namrita illustrated Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s Madhushala, Ritu Nanda made a rare public appearance at the exhibition and launch of the book in Delhi, at the same event with Priyanka Gandhi and Robert Vadra.
Ritu and Rajan remained close to the Kapoor family and Rajan went on record to say in a newspaper interview that the Nandas were always closer to the Kapoors than the Bachchans.
(Rasheed Kidwai is the author of Neta-Abhineta: Bollywood Star Power in Politics, and an ORF fellow. Views expressed are personal.)