Expresso Entertainment Feature on Veteran Actor Zohra Sehgal

Here is a report on veteran actress Zohra Sehgal from the Indian Express at 7:30 p.m. on April 30

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Zohra Sehgal taught the world that life is not just about breathing, but about living it. The “Laadli of the Century” according to the label of the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) – Laadli Media Awards, Sehgal has not let age dampen her spirit at all. And the aforementioned documentary attempted to unearth the fuel that kept it going even after seven decades in business.

Zohra Sehgal has crossed the worlds of theatre, cinema, television and dance with great success. At an age when girls were married, Sehgal defied purdah and chose his passion for dancing over settling in the early 1930s.

Having witnessed the failure of her sister’s marriage, Sehgal decided not to marry herself. After graduating, her maternal uncle, Sahebzada Saeeduzzafar Khan, who was based in Edinburgh, arranged for her to apprentice with a British actor. They set off from Lahore by car and, en route, passed through Iran and Palestine, before reaching Damascus, Syria, where she met her cousin. Then they traveled to Egypt and took a ship to Europe in Alexandria.

In Europe, Sehgal’s aunt encouraged her to enroll in Mary Wigman’s ballet school in Dresden, Germany. Sehgal passed the entrance test without much previous experience in the dance form and became the first Indian to study in the institution. She remained in Dresden for the next three years to study modern dance, while living in the house of Countess Liebenstein. A significant turning point came in her life when she met Uday Shankar during a performance of the Shiv-Parvati ballet, which he had choreographed. Shankar promised him a job when he returned to India at the end of his course.

Shankar contacted Sehgal via telegram, saying, “Leaving for a tour in Japan. Can you join immediately? Following this, Sehgal joined his troupe in August 1935. The band toured Japan, Egypt, and several parts of Europe and the United States. Sehgal quickly established herself as the troupe’s principal dancer, along with Simkin, a French national. Upon their return to India in 1940, Sehgal became a teacher at the Uday Shankar Indian Cultural Center in Almora. It was there that she met her future husband Kameshwar Sehgal, a young scientist, painter and dancer from Indore, eight years her junior.

The two continued to work at the Cultural Center and established themselves as leading choreographers. While in Almora, Kameshwar Sehgal composed a remarkable ballet for human puppets and choreographed the Lotus Dance ballet. The duo then emigrated to Lahore, where they established their own dance academy, the Zohresh Dance Institute. Following the communal tension that preceded the partition of India, they moved to Bombay, with their one-year-old daughter, Kiran. Sehgal joined the Prithvi Theatre, where his sister, Uzra Butt also worked in 1945, as an actress with a monthly salary of Rs 400, and toured across India with the group.

Also in 1945, Sehgal joined the theater group, Indian People’s Theater Association (IPTA), acted in several plays and made his film debut in IPTA’s first film production, directed by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Dharti Ke Lal in 1946; she followed it with another IPTA supported film, Neecha Nagar. Directed by Chetan Anand and starring Rafiq Ahmed and Uma Anand, Neecha Nagar was one of the first projects of the parallel cinema movement in the subcontinent. Upon its release, the film became a critical success and screened at international film festivals like the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d’Or.

She was also a dance director at the Prithvi Theater from 1945 to 1959.

Sehgal told The Hindu in 2018, “I enjoyed it very much. Also, I never got the lead roles because I wasn’t beautiful or sexy, but I hung on until in 1962 I got a theater scholarship in the UK. I went and never came back for 25 years.
Yes, she always believed she was “ugly,” a confession she made time and time again in her interviews. “You meet me now, when I’m old and ugly, you should have seen me when I was young and ugly,” she once told the interviewer. Interestingly, Scroll wrote in 2017 that Sehgal envies his sister’s fame and attractiveness. Her daughter and dancer Kiran Segal in the biography Zohra Sehgal: Fatty wrote because of this complex, Zohra Sehgal “strove to be charming and attract attention”.

Zohra Sehgal has never been shy about speaking out about her flaws while finding a way through the hearts of the audience. Spending 14 years in theater, she also appeared in nearly 20 films. In fact, her longevity can be summed up by the fact that she worked with four generations of the Bollywood Kapoor family – from Prithviraj Kapoor to Raj Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor to Ranbir Kapoor.
Zohra Sehgal chose roles that were a pure reflection of her real aura. These include Bhaji on the Beach (1992), Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999), Bend It Like Beckham (2002), Dil Se (1998), Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (2001) and Saawariya (2007) and Cheeni Kum (2007).

Sehgal has dabbled in international cinema in the UK and television as well. At the age of 92, she performed a play called Ek Thi Nani which was staged in Lahore for the first time. He presented her with her sister Uzra Butt. Her English version took place at UCLA as A Granny for All Seasons in 2001. She has also featured in British television classics like Doctor Who and the 1984 miniseries The Jewel in the Crown.
His life is an open book to break stereotypes at every moment. Even her marriage to the painter Kameshwar Sehgal was unconventional. Kameshwar was eight years younger than her and was a Hindu. Their union faced considerable opposition in 1942.
Zohra Sehgal continued to play hide and seek as she grew older. Her iconic photo cutting her birthday cake, more like butchering it with a huge knife, is an example of how she’s aged in her stride. The recipient of Padma Vibhushan succumbed to age-related issues at 102.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid tribute to Sehgal on Twitter, describing her as “prolific and full of life”, and adding that she “marked her with her game which is admired across generations”. Also paying tribute, Amitabh Bachchan tweeted that Sehgal was “tremendously lovely”.

Sehgal was cremated on July 11 at Lodhi Road Crematorium, Delhi. She dictated that when she died she wanted to be cremated and buried without fuss or trouble, and told her family to flush her ashes down the toilet if the crematorium refused to keep them.

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Colleen D. Ervin