Zohra Sehgal: Grand dame of Indian films who defied stereotypes

Written by Press Trust of India | New Delhi | Updated: Jul 12 2014, 14:08pm hrs
Zohra Sehgal, the grand dame of Indian theatre and films, was older than Indian cinema at the age of 102 with a glorious performing career behind her that inspired generations.

Full of quick wit, instant humour and a chameleon-like ability, she could transform herself with dexterity into any character that the moment demanded.

Sehgal died a private hospital here following a cardiac arrest.

Familiar to the younger generation for her role of Amitabh Bachchan's nagging mother in "Cheeni Kum" or the charming grandmother of Shah Rukh Khan in "Dil Se" and "Tandoori Nights", she also acted in Salman Khan starrer "Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam" and was last seen in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Sawariyaa" (2007).

Born on April 27, 1912, in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, Sahibzadi Zohra Begum Mumtaz-Ullah Khan was third of her seven siblings and grew up in Chakrata near Dehradun.

Zohra began her career as a dancer with Uday Shankar in 1935 and performed across Japan, Egypt, Europe and the US. She married scientist, painter and dancer Kameshwar Sehgal in August 1942. The couple had two children, Kiran and Pavan.

Considered the doyenne of Indian theatre, Sehgal acted with Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA) and Prithviraj Kapoor's Prithvi Theatre for fourteen years.

She choreographed for a few Hindi films as well, including classics like Guru Dutt's "Baazi" (1951) and the dream sequence song in Raj Kapoor's film "Awaara".

After her husband's death in 1952, Sehgal first moved to Delhi and then to London on a drama scholarship in 1962, where she appeared in many TV productions including "The Jewel in the Crown", "Tandoori Nights" and "My Beautiful Laundrette".