Zohra Sehgal, the grand old lady of Indian theatre and films, died here on Thursday at the age of 102, after a glorious performing career that delighted generations.
Sehgal was admitted to a hospital on Wednesday and diagnosed with pneumonia. A heart patient, she suffered a cardiac arrest and passed away, a senior doctor at the hospital said.
A quintessential Bollywood diva who essayed character roles with aplomb in a career spanning over seven decades in both theatre and cinema, Sehgal, bubbling with life and energy even at the ripe old age, began her career as a dancer with Uday Shankar in 1935 and appeared in many Bollywood films as a character actor as well as in English language movies, besides television series and plays.
The last time Zohra Sehgal appeared in a film was Bollywood director Sanjay Leela Bhansali's “Saawariya” (with Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor) released in 2007, when she was already 96 years old.
She also acted in hits like “Cheeni Kum” (with Amitabh Bachchan), “Dil Se” (with Shah Rukh Khan and Manisha Koirala), “Veer Zaara” (Shah Rukh and Priety Zinta), “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam” (Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai) and Gurinder Chadha-directed “Bend It Like Beckham”.
Born on April 27, 1912 in Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh in a traditional Muslim family, Sehgal, third of her seven siblings, grew up in Chakrata near Dehradun and was sent to Lahore to pursue her higher education.
As a dancer, she performed across Japan, Egypt, Europe and the US. Living life on her own terms, she married scientist, painter and dancer Kameshwar Sehgal, who was eight years junior to her, in August 1942. The couple had two children, Kiran and Pavan. Kameshwar died in 1952 and Zohra raised the children all by herself.
Sehgal debuted in cinema in 1946 with two films -- Khwaja Ahmed Abbas' “Dharti Ke Lal” based on Bengal famine and Chetan Anand's “Neecha Nagar”.
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”.
On her return from abroad, Sehgal studied in Lahore's prestigious Queen Mary College meant for daughters of aristocratic families.
Sehgal shared a long association with Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA) and Prithviraj Kapoor's Prithvi Theatre for 14 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”.
Sehgal received several awards including Indian government's prestigious title Padma Vibhushan in 2010, Sangeet Nataka Akademi award and Kalidas Samman.
Rich tributes poured from the film industry, soon after the news of her demise. “Zohra Sehgal passes away at 102 yrs...What a journey and what an immensely lovable co-star! Prayer for her blessed soul!” Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan tweeted.