Sahibzadi Zohra Begum Mumtaz-ullah Khan was the actual name of Zohra Sehgal ji. But I knew her most energetic persona. Zohra Sehgal ji. Many years back I saw a TV serial Mulla Nasiruddin on Doordarshan. it was based on stories that we used to hear during childhood. But i had been admirer of Zohra Sehgal ji as i am a student of Dance. Thus anyone in India who is learning dance must know about Zohra ji. Beacsue she was the leading dancer in Uday Shankar’s dance troupe that toured the world in 1935? imagine that was before India got freedom. And in those days dancing by any girl of a respected family was something unbelievable, it was something like death. But Zohra Sehgal ji was always a fighter. However she got backing from her maternal uncle and few of his friends. With the help of her maternal uncle she went to Europe to study, but she also joined classes in Dance, modern dance. In material available in net she is termed as a tomboy? means during childhood she was not just a girl.
She acted in few plays, stage shows withe her sister Uzra in Lahore.
She worked in the Prithvi Theatre as leading lady/actor in many stage shows accross India, her sister Uzra ji was already a leading actor of Prithvi Theatre.
She met Kameshwar Sehgal, when Uday Shankar started his dance academy at Almora(1940). Do you know our great film maker Guru Dutt ji was also learning dance at this academy. Zohra ji married Kameshwar Sehgal. Later they started as school at Lahore, Zohresh dance Institute. But they during migrated to Bombay, and She joined the Prithvi Theatre as an actor in 1945. She worked in few Hindi films also.
After death of her husband she moved to Delhi and then to London. There she worked in theatre shows also got opportunity to work in TV series, few on BBC also.
World famous and reputed Merchant Ivory production roped her in a film Courtesan of Bombay in 1982. This production house of James Ivory with the Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (the mysterious script writer) has always brought out interesting films on Indian themes. Thanx to Doordarshan that i was able to see few of them.
As she was dancer, she also did some choreography in films. most famous i remember the song (dream sequence) in Awara.
Her life in London was difficult to an extent but she some how established herself in TV series and films. Once somewhere i had read that she even did some stitching work for firm that was roped in for making curtains for the palace.
On Doordarshan when i saw the Jewel in the crown i did not know that Zohra Sehgal acted in the film as lady chaterjee (lili). I only remember a British lady near the end of series says that India actually is the jewel in the crown. Then she acted in Tandoori Nights.
later in 90s she got some films also but she did plays with her sister also during this period. She appeared in Salman & Aishwaria starer, film Hum dil de chuke sanam. on 9th July 2014 she passed away. I think she should have got Bharat Ratna.
Why she was most respected is that in-spite of the fact that she was born to a muslim family that too in a well to do family, in those times when purdah system was enforced she got education in school and went on to become s stage performer (dance & plays). Imagining about such a life one can really think of the hurdles she might have felt in her life. I or we must salute to the courage with which she worked all her life (independently on her own terms).