The tireless performer Zohra Sehgal turned 100 years ‘young’ on Friday, and she is still more active than many of her juniors.
Her inspiring journey as a theatre, film and TV artist makes her birth centenary so special. The age defying actress has emerged as entertaining and colourful as the Indian Cinema itself.
Zohra Begum Mumtaz-Ullah Khan was born on April 27, 1912 into a pathan family in Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh. The naughty girl was sent to a boarding school in Lahore.
After she came back to India, Zohra joined the ballet of legendary dancer/choreographer in 1935. She went to teach dance in Almora and it was there she met scientist and dancer Kameshwar Sehgal and married him.
She joined Prithvi Theatres in 1945 and worked with the group for 14 years. She also joined Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA).
The doyen of Indian theatre, Zohra made her film debut in IPTA’s first film, Dharti Ke Lal (1946), which was directed by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas. She followed it up with another IPTA film, Neecha Nagar.
Zohra worked in over 20 films and she is best remembered for appearances in \\\’Bhaji on the Beach\\\’ (1992), \\\’Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam\\\’, \\\’Bend It Like Beckham\\\’ (2002), \\\’Dil Se…\\\’ (1998) and \\\’Cheeni Kum\\\’ (2007).
She choreographed for a few Hindi films as well, including Guru Dutt\\\’s Baazi (1951) and the dream sequence song in Raj Kapoor\\\’s film Awaara.
Following the tragic demise of her husband she moved to Delhi and taught dance to a theatre group there. She won a drama scholarship in Great Britain in 1962.
After her scholarship ended there she was all broke and jobless but the journey had to continue. 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 went on to feature in TV series like \\\’The Jewel in the Crown\\\’, \\\’My Beautiful Launderette\\\’, \\\’Tandoori Nights\\\’ and \\\’Never Say Die\\\’. She also anchored a few episodes of television series \\\’Padosi\\\’.
She single-handedly raised her two children Kiran and Pavan.
After living in the UK for nearly 25 years, 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 quits.
On the small screen, she featured in \\\’Amma and Family\\\’. The centenarian also did several big banner movies in Bollywood — Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Dil Se, Tera Jaadu Chal Gaya, Saawariya, Dillagi and Veer Zaara.
Besides this she continued her love for the stage through plays like Ek Thi Naani and The Spirit of Anne Frank. A recipient of prestigious honours like the Sangeet Natak Akademi and Padma Vibhushan, Zohra Sehgal penned her fascinating journey in befittingly titled memoirs, Stages: The Art and Adventures of Zohra Sehgal.
Incidentally, Sehgal\\\’s 100th birthday comes in the year when Cinema is also celebrating its completion of a century.
At 100, her zest for life, wit and charm, which continue to inspire generations, remain unmatched. Zohra is still spreading smiles with her small and big performances.