Superstar Amitabh Bachchan describes his Cheeni Kum co-star as still being childlike. Read on to know more about Zohra Sehgal on her 100th birthday
Affable and lovable, veteran actor Zohra Sehgal was born Zohra Begum Mumtaz-Ullah Khanon April 27, 1912 in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh and turns 100 today. Which means she is as old as the Hindi film industry, or rather a year older! She will celebrate her 100th birthday at home with her daughter Kiran Sehgal and a few close friends. The Padma Vibhushan awardee is a revered film, stage and TV personality who is known for her zest for life, wit and charm, displayed in recent years in films such as Cheeni Kum, Saawariya, Kal Ho Naa Ho, The Mistress of Spices, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Bend It Like Beckham and Dil Se to name a few.
Growing up among six siblings, Zohra lost her mother at a young age. Studying at the Queen Mary’s Girls College in Lahore, she headed to London to pursue acting as a career, but ended up learning modern dance in Germany. The training helped a find a place in pioneering Indian dancer-choreographer Uday Shankar’s troupe that toured the world. Back in India in 1940, Zohra started teaching at the Uday Shankar India Cultural Centre in Almora and met her future husband Kameshwar Sehgal there. Zohra and Kameshwar got married and had two kids, Kiran and Pavan. The couple set up a dance institute called Zohresh in Lahore. But the Partition of India forced them to migrate to India, separating Zohra from her sister Uzra Butt whom she didn’t meet for years after that. Settling in Bombay, Zohra joined the Prithvi Theatre. She also worked for the Indian People’s Theatre Association and made her film debut in their production, in Dharti Ke Lal (1946), and later starred in Neecha Nagar that won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Zohra also choreographed for some movies including Raj Kapoor’s Awara, while her husband turned art and film director. After Kameshwar’s death, Zohra moved to Delhi and worked as Director, Natya Academy. (Cont. below photo gallery)
Shifting to London again in the mid-1960s, she featured in an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Rescue of Pluffles, and anchored a few episodes of TV series Padosi. She worked in the Merchant Ivory Productions’ film The Courtesans of Bombay (1982) and later featured in TV serials like The Jewel in the Crown, My Beautiful Launderette, Tandoori Nights and Never Say Die.
Zohra now lives in New Delhi with her daughter Kiran and appears in films and on TV occasionally. In spite of her age and ailments like cancer which she fought, her zeal and energy remain. Like her TV show’s title, ‘never say die’ is what can be described as the attitude of Zohra Sehgal, the jovial and witty actor, dancer, choreographer, friend, mom, aunt, grandmom or great grandmom – whatever you wanna call her! Here’s wishing her a very happy 100th birthday and may she live longer. This is one century we know even cricketer Sachin Tendulkar will be very pleased with!