Zohra Sehgal, born as Sahibzadi Zohra Begum Mumtaz-ullah Khan, on 27 April 1912 was an Indian actress and choreographer. She lived in a traditional Muslim family in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, India.Zohra lost vision in her left eye when she contracted glaucoma when she was a year old. Since her sister faced a failure in marriage, she decided to pursue a career, rather getting married. Shiv-Parvati ballet by Uday Shankar took place in Europe and she happened to watch his show.After watching the performance, she got impressed by and went to the backstage to meet Uday Shankar, who promised her a job on her return to India, at the completion of her course.She joined his troupe on 8th August 1935, and danced across Japan, Egypt, Europe and the US, as the leading lady, along with French dancer, Simkie. In 1940, Uday Shankar moved back to India and she became a teacher at the Uday Shankar India Cultural Centre at Almora. It was here that she met Kameshwar Segal and they got married on 14 August 1942. The wedding reception was supposed to be attended by Jawaharlal Nehru, but couple of days before the wedding he got arrested for supporting Gandhi's Quit India Movement.Later, she joined the leftist theatre group, IPTA, acted in several plays, and made her film debut in IPTA's first film production, directed by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, “Dharti Ke Lal” in 194. She did another one with IPTAsupported film, Chetan Anand's “Neecha Nagar”. It became the first Indian film to gain critical international recognition and won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
She went on to appear in several Bollywood films as a character actress with a career-span of about sixty years. The famous films she was part of include “Neecha Nagar”; “Afsar”; “Bhaji on the Beach”; “The Mystic Masseur”; “Dil Se”; “Saawariya” and Cheeni Kum. Apart from movies she also did TV serials “The Jewel in the Crown”; “Tandoori Nights” and Amma and Family. At her age of ninety, she played the central role in the 2002 film “Chalo Ishq Ladaaye”. She is considered as the doyenne of Indian theatre. She also acted in Englishfilms such as “Bend It Like Beckham”. In 1998, she was awarded with the Padma Shri, In 2001, Kalidas Samman and the Sangeet Natak Akademi, in 2004. In 2010, she received the Padma Vibhushan. She also did choreography for several Hindi films, including Guru Dutt's “Baazi” and the dream sequence song in Raj Kapoor's film “Awaara”.
Zohra and Kameshwar had two children; Kiranand Pavan Sehgal. Pavan Sehgal works for the WHO and Kiran is areputed Odissi dancer. Zohra’s husbandpassed away in 1959, and she shifted first to Delhi and became director of the newly founded Natya Academy. She then moved to London on a drama scholarship in 1962. In 1964, she did her 1st role for British television in a BBC adaptation of a Kipling story “The Rescue of Pluffles”. She also appeared in four episodes of “Doctor Who”, however, all of them are currently lost. She also anchored 26 episodes of BBC TV series, “Padosi. During her acting career, she has shared the screen with heroes across generationsstarting from Prithviraj Kapoor till Ranbir Kapoor. She was the longest-living actor to have appeared on “Doctor Who”. She was admitted to the Max Hospital in South Delhi after being diagnosed with pneumonia on 9 July 2014, and she died after suffering from cardiac arrest on 10 July 2014(102).Kiran Segal wrote Zohra's biography titled "Zohra Sehgal: Fatty"In 2012.