An iconic name, an unforgettable face … be it the dance, theatre, television and silver screen there is no platform that Zohra Segal did not grace with her mesmeric presence in a career that spanned across sixty-years and two continents.
Zohra Segal (or sometimes spelled as Segal) was born as Sahibzadi Zohra Mutazullah Khan Begum in Rampur on 27 April 1912 to Mumtazullah Khan and Natiqua Begum in what was then called United Province.
Zohra Segal’s family descended from a Pathani Chieftain, Maulvi Ghulam Jilani Khan who came to the court of Ahmad Shah in Delhi in 1760 and got some land on the banks of Kosi River. The third of seven children, Zohra’s mother passed away when she was quite young both she and her sister studied at Queen Mary’s College in Lahore.
In 1930, Zohra Segal embarked on a trip of a lifetime when she accompanied her uncle from Dehradun to England by car. They traveled via Lahore, Iran and Palestine, Syria, Egypt and caught a boat to Europe in Alexandria.
Zohra Segal became the first Indian to get admission into Mary Wigman’s ballet school in Germany studying modern dance for three years. She attended a performance by the great Uday Shankar, who offered her a job upon completion of her studies.
Zohra Segal’s life changed when she unexpectedly got a telegram from Uday Shankar asking if she could join his troupe in Japan. Zohra Segal answered the call and toured with Uday Shankar’s group across Japan, Egypt, Europe and the US between1935-40.
Upon her return to India, Zohra Segal taught at the Uday Shankar India Cultural Center, Almora and this is where she met her future husband Kameshwar Segal.
A few years later Zohra Segal and Kameshwar moved to Lahore and set up Zohresh Dance Institute but growing communal tensions at the onset of the Partition of India saw them move to Bombay.
Zohra Segal encapsulated her wonderful life and career in her candid 2010 autobiography Close-UP of a Life on Stone and Screen. Zohra Segal turned 100 on 27 April 2012 and continued to engage with the public. She passed away at the age of 102 on 10 July, 2014 in New Delhi.
According to Online Encyclopedia Britannica: “She charmed millions with her performances in film and onstage over a career that spanned more than seven decades. Zohra Segal was best known to Western audiences for her roles in British television’s The Jewel in the Crown (1984) and Tandoori Nights (1985–87) and the films Bhaji on the Beach (1993) and Bend It like Beckham (2002). She began studying dance in Germany in the early 1930s before touring Europe and the U.S. with Uday Shankar’s dance troupe. In 1945 Sehgal, a Muslim, and her Hindu husband moved to Bombay (Mumbai), where she joined the theatre group Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). She spent 14 years with the IPTA and the Prithvi Theatre while also taking small roles in Hindi-language movies, such as Neecha nagar (1946; Lowly City), which won the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film at the Cannes Film Festival. Sehgal traveled to London in 1962 on a drama scholarship and remained in the U.K. until the 1990s, when she returned to India and continued acting until the age of 95. She received several civilian awards from the Indian government, including the Padma Vibhushan in 2010.