Sahibzadi Zohra Begum Mumtaz-ullah Khan, better known as Zohra Sehgal in the film industry and beyond, passed away on the tenth of July at the age of hundred and two of a cardiac arrest. She was a lot of things in her life- theatre actor, film star, dancer, choreographer and receiver of the Padma Vibhushan. But most of all she was a person who lived life to the fullest, and a woman in the Indian society who courageously defied traditional norms.
Zohra Sehgal embodied the very essence of Indian art. She began her career as a classical dancer, having joined the troupe of the then veteran Uday Shankar where she also began choreographing. After that, she joined the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), a leftist theatre collective formed in 1942 which included the likes of Prithviraj Kapoor, Premchand, Ismat Chughtai and Sa’adat Hassan Manto. As a part of IPTA, she featured in various plays and the film versions of some of them. Later, she joined the still renowned Prithvi theatre, started by Prithviraj Kapoor, of which she became an essential part.
Her time in Europe provided her with her break in cinema with the celebrated Merchant Ivory Productions. She was a part of ‘The Courtesans of Bombay’directed by James Ivory in 1982. After acting in some Indian television shows, it was only in mid-nineties that Zohra started acting in mainstream Bollywood movies, where she found her niche in the funnily offbeat grandmother/mother roles. Dil Se, Veer Zara, Cheeni Kum were all part of that league, and it was a sheer delight every time she was on screen. She also became the oldest actor to have featured in the British television show, Doctor Who.
A liberal person in ideology, she had been an atheist all her life, and thus marrying a Hindu man was not a hassle when she fell in love with painter and dancer, Kameshwar Sehgal. She belonged to a family of artists also played crucial in the doing. There were certain apprehensions with regards to her marriage, initially. She was also heavily influenced by poetry, especially that of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and loved recitation as a practice.
Zohra lived a life full of action, drama, humor and history. She wished to embrace death with delight and as far as we can say, she sure made one hell of a journey for herself and for everyone who admired her.
To make your day better, you can read a wonderful conversation between the two grand personalities of India, Zohra Sehgal and Khushwant Singh here.
Image Source [Youtube]