Ageless in her over seven-decade-long theatre and film career, Zohra Sehgal’s zest for life, wit and charm will continue to inspire generations to come.
Zohra, who died of cardiac arrest on Thursday at the age of 102, was named the ‘Laadli of the Century’ by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF)-Laadli Media Awards, she was also labeled a ‘tireless performer’ by her fans and well-wishers.
Born as Sahibzadi Zohra Begum Mumtaz-ullah Khan on April 27, 1912, in Saharanpur in then United Provinces, Sehgal was one of seven children of Mumtazullah Khan and Natiqua Begum.
After graduating from Lahore’s Queen Mary College, Zohra, who was passionate about dance, chose career over marriage. Her tryst with showbiz began with dance when she joined Uday Shankar in 1935 and worked with him for a few years.
Later, she went on to teach dance in Almora and that’s where she met painter and dancer Kameshwar Sehgal and married him. She later took to dramatics with the Prithvi Theatre in 1945.
Zohra worked with them for 14 years, travelled to various cities and even joined the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA).
Apart from others, she worked with four generations of Bollywood’s famous Kapoor family — from Prithviraj Kapoor to his great grandson Ranbir Kapoor, Zohra held the feat of working with the oldest and newest generation of Bollywood. Interestingly, her last movie, Saawariya, was Ranbir’s debut movie.
Zohra joined Prithvi Theatres in 1945 and said that the 14 years she spent there had a positive influence on her life. “If you like my work today or praise my work, it’s all thanks to Prithviraj (Kapoor),” she once said.
In the mid-1960s, she featured in an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Rescue of Pluffles. She also anchored a few episodes of BBC television series Padosi.
While she was in London, she featured in a film called The Courtesans of Bombay, directed by James Ivory in 1982. There was no looking back in international showbiz thereafter. She also featured in TV series like The Jewel in the Crown, My Beautiful Launderette, Tandoori Nights and Never Say Die.
Zohra came back to India in the 1990s. She was around 80 years old then. While many would have thought she would quit the entertainment world, she was not ready to call it a day.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who directed her in two of his films, Hum Dil De Chukay Sanam and Saawariya, had once said: “To call her a livewire is an understatement.”
On the small screen, she featured in Amma and Family, and bagged roles in big banner movies.
She was passionate about acting and she never said no to any role, even if it was not up to the mark.
“Acting is the only thing I enjoy, apart from kissing my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren,” she had said in one of her interviews. “I have hardly ever refused a role. If I get a bad role, I take it up and work on it.”
Her work won her several prestigious awards. In 1998, she was honoured with the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian honours, following which, she received the Kalidas Samman in 2001 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2004. In 2010, she was bestowed the Padma Vibhushan.
At the age of 101, she requested for a ground-floor government accommodation from the union culture ministry and the urban development ministry under the artiste quota, but it was denied.
celebrities pay homage :
Amitabh Bachchan: Zohra Sehgal passes away at 102 yrs... what a journey and what an immensely loveable costar! Prayers for her blessed soul!!
Shahrukh Khan: A journey of million miles overloaded with smiles. Even at a 100 plus I have yet to meet a naughtier young girl…..will miss you Zohra
Priyanka Chopra: 102 n a legacy that will always be a part of Indian cinema. It was an honour to know #ZohraSehgal and to be a part of films while she was. RIP
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2014.
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