Zohra Sehgal Biography
The ‘ladli of the film industry’, Zohra Sehgal, after delivering her legendary contribution to the field of art & cinema, bid her last goodbye to the world on 10 July 2014 in New Delhi, at the age of 102. She was cremated at the Lodhi Road crematorium on 11 July 2014.
Born on 27 April 1912, Sahibzadi Zohra Begum Mumtazullah Khan belonged to a traditional family in Saharanpur, a city located in the state of Uttar Pradesh. She took birth as the third child to Mumtazullah Khan and Natiqua Begum. After she completed her schooling in Chakrata near Dehradun, she attained her graduation at Lahore’s Queen Mary College.
From Lahore, she made her way to Europe, to practise and refine her passion to dance under the guidance of a British actor. She was admitted to a ballet school in Dresden, where she spent three years and came in contact with Uday Shankar and his dance troupe.
In 1935, Shankar asked her to join his dance troupe on a tour of Japan. Achieving excellence as a dancer, Sehgal worked with Uday Shankar’s dance troupe for about eight years. In 1940, she was appointed as a teacher at Uday Shankar’s institute at Almora. It was during this period at Almora that she found the love of her life, Kameshwar Sehgal. The two soon tied the knot in 1942, despite the reluctance of Sehgal’s parents. The couple had two children together. However, the married life of Zohra could not last long. Kameshwar died in the year 1952. She had to raise her two children, Pawan and Kiran, single-handedly.
Known for her forever young heart and spirit, Zohra was ditched by destiny at the tender age of one; she lost vision in her left eye, which took a long time to be cured. Furthermore, in 1994, it was detected that she was suffering from cancer. But as time passed, she retrieved and she never gave up the zest for life.
In 2012, on her 100th birthday, her daughter Kiran released Sehgal’s biography with the name ‘Zohra Sehgal: Fatty’. The biography clearly reflects how the quintessential Bollywood diva always lived her life to the brim.
In a career of about eight decades, she became a darling of the masses. She was not only popular with the critics, but with the crowds too. The irrepressibly engaging doyenne of Indian films Zohra always added a touch of spice in her work.
Stepping into the world of art & cinema as a lead dancer in 1935, she gradually set her foot in the industry as a vivacious personality. In 1945, she became a part of the Prithvi Theatre Group, receiving a payment of INR 400 per month. Often called the grand old lady of Bollywood, Zohra acted for the first time in the first film of Indian People’s Theatre Association, Dharti ke Lal in 1946. It was directed by KA Abbas. Her last performance as an actor was captured in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya of 2007. Over the span of time, she worked in Bollywood as well as Hollywood movies. Veer-Zara, Saaya, Cheeni-Kum and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam are some of the Hindi films which received her contribution as an artist, while her Hollywood movies include The Vengeance of She, Tales that Witness Madness, Never Say Die, Little Napoleons and Bend It. She has also served the industry as a TV artist, and performed in popular programmes like ‘The Jewel in the Crown’, ‘Tandoori Nights’ and ‘Never Say Die’.
The Veteran actress Zohra Sehgal has been honoured with the title of “Laadli of the Century” by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF)-Laadli Media Awards. Also, she was bestowed several honorary awards, such as the Padma Shri in 1998, the Kalidas Samman in 2001, the Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2004 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2010.