Zohra Sehgal is a veteran Indian actress and also a famous choreographer on her era. She was born on April 27, 1912 and died on July 10, 2014.
Zohra’s real name is Sahibzadi Zohra Begum Mumtazullah Khan. She was born from an old Muslim household in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh in India. Her parents are Mumtazullah Khan and Natiqua Begum who belong to the Rohilla Pathans community. Zohra is the third in the family and she usually plays games for the boys and climb trees. She lost her left eye vision when she was just one year old due to glaucoma. She was treated in Birmingham hospital with a cost of £300. Her mother died when she was very young. She studied at Queen Mary College in Lahore, Pakistan, an institution that is strictly for the girls. Zohra decided not to get married after seeing the failed marriage of her sister; instead, she pursues her career.
Her aunt from Europe took Zohra to Mary Wigman’s Ballet School in Dresden, Germany and she became the first Indian to study ballet on that institution. She stayed at Dresden for three years and she studied modern dance. She stayed with the Countess Liebenstein residence. She got a chance to watch the Uday Shankar’s (Indian dancer and choreographer) Shiv-Parvati ballet while they were in Europe. She was impressed on the show so she met Uday backstage. Uday gave her word to Zohra that he will give her a job when she came back to India.
After some time, she got a telegram from Uday and told her if she can join them in Japan for a show. In 1935, she joined the troupe and started dancing in Japan, Europe, US and Egypt. She became a leading lady opposite Simkie, a French dancer. Uday went back to India in year 1940 and Zohra became a teacher in Uday’s cultural center in Almora. From there, she met Kameshwar Segal, her husband who is not just a dancer, but a scientist and a painter as well. They have two children namely, Kiran and Pavan. Her daughter, Kiran wrote her biography in 2012 entitled, Zohra Sehgal: Fatty. Zohra and her husband’s journey as a dancer and choreographer started until they came back to Mumbai. Zohra’s sister, Uzra Butt works in Prithvi Theater so she also joined the theater in 1945 and work for the next fourteen years. In 1945, she also joined the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and performed in various plays. She was debuted in the film industry through the first production of IPTA under the direction of
Khwaja Ahmad Abbas
in 1946. The film was entitled, Dharti Ke Lal, followed by the Hindi film, Neecha Nagar. This film is the first Indian film to receive critical international award and got the Palme d’Or award in Cannes Film festival. She was still mostly involved in theater works and she came to knew several artists and celebrities. She acted in all parts of India including some jails like Ferozepore where she also got the chance to watch an execution.
In 1959, her husband died and she decided to move to Delhi. She became the director of Natya Academy. In 1962, she moved to London and met
. She performed in the short story, The Rescue of Pluffles by
in 1964. She also performed in some episodic of the British show, Doctor Who from 1964-1965. She became an anchor in 26 episodes of Padosi, a television series of BBC. The next two decades, Zohra’s career was intermittent but she still appeared in several films but with small roles only.
She got her first major break in films in London under the Merchant Ivory Productions. She was seen in 1982’s The Courtesans of Bombay under the direction of
. This leads her to do the role of Lady Chatterjee in the British TV serial, The Jewel in the Crown in 1984. Then she started to do television shows like the
and films like My Beautiful Laundrette.
Zohra returned to India in 1990s and resides in Burdwan. She performed in various films, television serials and plays. She also went to Pakistan and around India to perform. She was also active in many Hindi movies in 1996 doing grandmother roles. Some of her Bollywood films include Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Dil Se, Saaya, Kal Ho Naa Ho and many more.
She was confined in Max Hospital in South Delhi last July 9, 2014. She had pneumonia but on July 10, 2014, she died with a cardiac arrest. She was cremated in Lodhi Road Crematorium in Delhi but her memories lives forever.