Monday, October 1, 2012

Zohra Segal by Kiran Segal ; Published by Niyogi Books ; Pages 167 ; Price Rs 1250/-

                                      She is adorable, lovable, witty, charming and has a fantastic zest for life; she hit a century this year and she is  Zohra Segal -- born  on April 27, 1912. With a career more colourful than a rainbow, she has danced and acted her way through many productions that go beyond Bollywood.

                                      The Coffee Table book under review is an official biography—a tribute from a daughter Kiran Segal who calls her  Fatty. Fatty because Zohra is very particular about her weight and gets very conscious if she puts on as much as even half a pound. Wheelchair bound, she relaxed as she revealed the secret of her long productive life as ‘inner fire that has pushed me though life’. "I have often told my daughter that I felt I have done everything in life and I wish someone would euthanise me. I will sleep in peace with an injection," .

                                          She was one of seven children of a land-owning family of Rohilla Pathans of Rampur. She lost vision in her left eye as she contracted glaucoma at the age of One. She lost her mother while still young. She went to Queen Mary's Girls CollegeLahore, attended by the daughters of aristocratic families, and with all English staff.  Upon graduating,  her maternal uncle, arranged for her to apprentice under a British actor. In Europe, her aunt Dicta  got her admission and she became the first Indian to study in Mary Wigman’s school inDresden ,where she  stayed  for the next three years studying modern dance. Then she happened to watch the Shiv-Parvati ballet by Uday Shankar, who was touring Europe. This was to change her life forever as, impressed by the performance, she went back stage to meet Uday Shankar, who promised her a job on her return to India, at the completion of her course.

                                                  She joined his troupe and danced across JapanEgyptEuropeand the US, as a leading lady, along with French dancer, Simkie. She became a teacher at the Uday Shankar India Cultural Centre at Almora. It was here that she met Kameshwar Segal, an young scientist, painter and dancer from Indore , eight years her junior. They married on 14 August 1942. They had two children, Kiran  and Pavan. They migrated to Lahore and set up their own Zohresh Dance Institute. Later they migrated to Bombay and Zohra  joined Prithvi Theatre in 1945. She became member of the leftist theatre group, IPTA, acted in several plays, and made her film debut in IPTA's first film production, directed by K.A.Abbas Dhari Ke Lal ; followed it up with Chetan Anand’s film Neeche Nagar .  She did choreography of a few Hindi films as well, including Baazi, Awara,etc.

                                               After her husband's death in 1959, Zohra first moved to Delhi and became director of the newly founded Natya Academy. She then moved to London on a drama scholarship in 1962. Here she met Ram Gopal, a India-born Bharatnatyam dancer, and starting 1963, worked as a teacher in 'Uday Shankar style' of dance at his school. Her first role for British television was in a BBC adaptation of a Kipling story. She also anchored 26 episodes of BBC TV series, Padosi , made in 1976–77. In London, Zohra got her first break in the films and she appeared in The Courtesans of Bombay directed by James Ivory in 1982. This paved way for a important role as Lady Chatterjee in the television adaptation of The Jewel in the Crown. This started  the second phase of her career and she appeared  in The Raj Quartet, Tandoori Nights, etc
Zohra came back to India, in the mid-1990s .
                                      Known for her sense of humour and wit, Zohra's all-time favourite quote remains:
"You are seeing me now, when I am old and ugly. You should have seen me then, when I was young and ugly. Since the mid-1990s most of Segal's work has been for the Bollywood film industry, in films such as in Dil Se , Dillagi , The Mystic Masseur and Bend It Like Beckham .

                                     Zohra,  revealed the secret of her long productive life as "an inner fire that has pushed me through life… . I have often told my daughter that I felt I have done everything in life and I wish someone would euthanise me. I will sleep in peace with an injection,"

                                          This is an affectionate tribute by a daughter to her mother, rich in photos guaranteed to evoke nostalgia in lovers of screen and stage.



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