Veteran actress, danseuse, Padma Vibhushan Zohra Sehgal passed away yesterday. She was 102 and celebrated her birthday recently in April. Sahibzadi Zohra Begum Mumtaz-ullah Khan was born in 1912 in a Rohilla Pathan family in UP as one of the seven siblings. Her childhood passed mostly in Dehradun, was educated at Lahore.
She had lost sight in her left eye and was later operated upon for glaucoma. As a young graduate, she crisscrossed Lahore, Iran, Palestine, Syria, Egypt and from there by boat to Alexandria and finally to Dresden, Germany and started learning modern dance there. She saw an Uday Shanker ballet performance there and decide to change her interests immediately. But her desire to join Uday Shanker did not materialize till 1935, when she joined the troupe in Japan and remained with them for eight years.
Her film acting career started with “Dharti Ke Laal” and “Neecha Nagar” in 1946. The latter film had won prizes at Cannes that year. She simultaneously spent 14 years with IPTA, acting in several acclaimed plays. Her english acting career began with a BBC Kipling adaptation ” The Rescue of Pluffles” in 1964. Her first official recognition, The Sangeet Natak Academy award was awarded around this time, in 1963. Her association with the Merchant Ivory Productions began in 1982 with “The Courtesans of Bombay”. She acted in series like “Doctor Who” series, “The Jewel in the Crown,” “Tandoori Nights”.
Her acclaimed play, “Ek Thi Nani” was performed in 1992 at Lahore, with her sister Ujra Butt also acting with her. The play was later performed in English as “The Granny for all Seasons”. Her later film career began with a well received role in Mani Ratnam, Shah Rukh Khan’s “Dil Se” in 1998. Later she starred in films like “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam”, “The Mistic Masseur,” “Bend it Like Beckham,” “Chalo Ishq Ladaye,” “Veer Zaara,” “Mistress of Spices,” “Cheeni Kum,” and her last appearance – “Saawariya” in 2007.
She was given Padma Shri in 1998, Padma Bhushan in 2002, Padma Vibhushan in 2010.
This is what she wrote quite recently about her life, journey and death: “I am preparing myself for death. When I go to sleep, I try to keep myself smiling. So that when I die, I have a smile on my lips. I want an electric cremation. I don’t want any poems or fuss after that. And for heaven’s sake, don’t bring back my ashes. Flush them down the toilet if the crematorium refuses to keep them. If they tell you that I am dead, I want you to give a big laugh.”
This is what few celebrities wrote on the news:
“Prolific & full of life, Zohra Sehgal made a mark through her acting, which is admired across generations. Saddened on her demise,” tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
T 1541 – Zohra Sehgal passes away at 102 yrs ..what a journey and what an immensely loveable co star ! Prayers for her blessed soul !!
Lessons of Life: Zora Sehgal, 102, proves that if you live a life full of joy, the last thing you fear is death. RIP should read Rest in Joy!