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The Inimitable Centenarian

By Kiran Segal
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 167, Rs. 1250.00


‘...she is special…not just because she is making a hundred but because she is Zohra Segal, dancer, actress, story-teller, lover —lover of all things—and loved by all things, great and small and those in-between…’. These words of Tom Alter truly sum up the personality that has been so central to our imagination of Hindi cinema. The inimitable Zohra Segal turned hundred on April 27, 2012 and the launch of the book under review, a pictorial biography by her accomplished daughter Kiran Segal fittingly marked the centenarian’s birthday celebrations.   A familiar face to the people of the older generation, who have known her as a theatre and cinema artist, Zohra Segal is popular among the young generation as well, for her unforgettable roles in Hindi movies like Dil Se (1998), Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999), and Cheeni Kum (2007) and her roles in television serials, Mulla Nasruddin and Amma and Her Family. In the West, Zohra is best known for her parts in a number of movies, Bhaji on the Beach (1992), Bend It Like Beckham, Anita and Me (both 2002) and Merchant Ivory’s The Mystic Masseur (2001). Segal also earned fame for her role as Lady Chatterjee in the television adaptation of The Jewel in the Crown (1984) and Tandoori Nights in which she appeared from 1985 to 1987.   Born on April 27, 1912 and third among her seven siblings, Zohra was brought up by her father after her mother died in childbirth even before Zohra turned eight. Zohra’s father sent her, along with her two sisters, to the boarding school, Queen Mary’s College, Lahore where she was taught by several British teachers. It was here that she first discovered the actor in her, when she acted in the play The Rose and the Ring. She decided to learn dance and travelled all the way to Europe in her Mamu Sahibzada Saiduzzafar Khan’s convertible Dodge in 1930. Back in India, she began her career as a dancer with Uday Shankar’s troupe in 1935, and performed across Japan, Egypt, Europe and the United States. She later joined Prithvi Theatres in October 1945. The grand old lady of Indian theatre and cinema (she is a year older than the Indian cinema) has seen umpteen ups and downs—in her professional life as a dancer and as a theatre, cinema and television actor; in her personal life as a child who lost her mother when she was very young, a ...

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