Zohra Sehgal: 100 Years of Cheers

Zohra Sengal

It is Zohra Sehgal's inspiring journey as a theatre, film and TV artiste, that makes her birth centenary so special

There are not many who have the privilege of Amitabh Bachchan pulling a chair for them. Zohra Sehgal is one of those few," filmmaker R Balki says with a laugh. "Each time Zohraji came on the sets of 'Cheeni Kum', Mr Bachchan would stand up, first greet her and then pull a chair for her to sit," says the adman-turned-director and adds that Sehgal's mesmerising inner beauty makes her his most favourite woman.

This grand old lady — famous for her vivaciousness and enthusiasm —will turn 100 on April 27. Sehgal currently resides in Delhi with her daughter, Kiran Sehgal, and, as her friends say, the sprightly actor's zest for life is still intact.

Though the present generation is familiar with Sehgal, mainly through her sporadic movie appearances, the older generation will vouch for her powerful performances on stage. She started her career in 1935 as a leading dancer with the Uday Shankar Ballet Company and travelled the world over. In 1945, she joined Prithviraj Kapoor's Prithvi Theatre group as an actor on a monthly salary of Rs 400.

"Prithviraj used to then run his company at the Opera House. She worked with him for almost 14 years. She is indeed one of the best stage actresses we have," says theatre veteran MS Sathyu. Her sister Uzra Butt too was a popular actor.

During this period, she married a fellow dancer, Kameshwar Sehgal. After having acted in several plays, she made her film debut in Indian People's Theatre Association's (IPTA) first film, Dharti Ke Lal (1946), which was directed by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas. She followed it up with another IPTA film, Neecha Nagar.

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