April 27, 1912; Died: July 10, 2014
Zohra Sehgal, who has died of heart failure aged 102, was an Indian actress and dancer who was known as the grand old lady of Bollywood although she also appeared in many English-language films and television programmes including Bend it Like Beckham, The Jewel in the Crown and Doctor Who.
Born Sahibzadi Zohra Begum Mumtaz-ullah Khan into a Muslim family in Saharanpur in the northern Indian state Uttar Pradesh, she was the third of the seven children of Mumtazullah Khan and Natiqua Begum. When she was still a baby, she lost the vision in one eye due to glaucoma.
After attending Queen Mary's Girls College in Lahore, she decided to pursue a career as a performer and studied dance in Germany before joining the pioneering Indian choreographer Uday Shankar's dance troupe in the 1930s. She toured the world with the troupe, which was unusual for an Indian woman of her generation, visiting Japan, Egypt, the United States and Europe. For 14 years, she was also a member of the radical left-wing theatre group Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA), working for them through out the 1940s.
By the 1960s, she had decided to move to the UK to find work and began to win roles on television, the first of which was in a BBC adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling story The Rescue of Pluffles. She appeared in Doctor Who twice: firstly, in the 1964 William Hartnell story Marco Polo and then again the following year in The Crusade.
In the 1970s, she appeared in 26 episodes of the ground-breaking BBC series Padosi (Neighbours), one of the first British serials aimed at attracting an ethnic minority audience. She then worked with Merchant Ivory Productions on the 1983 docudrama The Courtesans of Bombay and two years later appeared in its television production of The Jewel in the Crown.
She also had roles in a number of British films including, most famously Bend It Like Beckham, but in the 1990s she returned to work in India where she went on to appear in numerous Bollywood films including Dil Se (From the Heart) and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (I Have Given My Heart Darling).
She continued acting until she was 95 and her last film work was in the 2007's Saawariya. She received a number of India's highest awards including the Padma Shri in 1998, the Kalidas Samman in 2001, the Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2004 and the Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian award, in 2010.
In 2009, she said that she had lived life to the fullest. "I've squeezed the best out of life," she said. "A good husband, children, family and most importantly my work.
"I am close to 100 and even with such a shrivelled-up face and figure, I can boast that I've still got work, fame and money."
Her husband, Kameshwar Sehgal, a scientist, painter and dancer, died in 1952.
She is survived by her daughter.
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