Zohra Sehgal: Life Lived to the Fullest

The curtain has fallen for veteran Bollywood actress Mrs. Zohra Sehgal, or Sahibzadi Zohra Begum Mumtaz-ullah Khan as she was born. The 102 years old doyenne of Indian cinema (known for her jovial roles in films like Dil Se, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Veer-Zaara, Cheeni Kum and Saawariya) will continue to stay alive in millions of hearts.

Just the fact that Indian film industry is a year younger to this matriarch explains a lot about this woman, who became what she was owing to a rebellious childhood.

zohra sehgal on death

Here are a few life lessons we can learn from this larger than life grand old lady of Bollywood.

1. Education: Even though she was born in a conservative Muslim family in British-ruled India, she knew the value of education and went to Queen Mary College, Lahore in the 1920s.


2. Travel: She was not one to whom sitting at home was an option. She chose to travel the world, and see its beauty through her own eyes.

3. Novelty: Not everybody knows that Mrs. Sehgal was the first Indian woman to have learned Ballet at the prestigious dance school of dancer Mary Wigman.

4. Quick Decision Making: She was all of 23, when she saw a play of famous Indian choreographer Uday Shankar. Without wasting a minute, she went backstage and asked for a job.

5. Love: She met her future husband Kameshwar Sehgal and fell in love with him. An age gap of 8 years, she being the senior, could not stop her love for him and they got married.

6. Creativity: When she moved to Lahore with her husband and kids, she chose the name Zohresh for her dance institute. It was a creative portmanteau of her and her husband’s name.

7. Strong Will: Even after seeing the ups and downs of life, and the death of her beloved husband, she didn’t lose her will to live and spread dance as an art form and moved to Delhi to head Natya Academy.

8. Fighting Spirit: Twenty years before she was called to heaven, she had a close call with death, when she was diagnosed with cancer, but the fighter in her beat the deadly disease and lived, continuing to spread smiles.

9. Smile: Not one image of her can be found that doesn’t have her characteristic ear-to-ear smile. After celebrating her 100th birthday, she once said that she even tries to sleep while smiling so that if something happens to her, she goes smiling.

10. Sense of humor: The image given below is of her 100th birthday, and she can be seen attacking the cake for the photographs, spreading smiles and laughter even at that age.

zohra sehgal on her 100th birthday

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Zohra Sehgal: 10 interesting quotes

Here we put together a few cheerful and bold comments made by the lively Zohra. Just have a look. Zohra got naughty in an interview and had made many bold and smart comments. When asked her what keeps her ticking, she replied,”humour and sex! Sex is very important for life to get going; I still want it!” guffawed the grand dame of Indian theatre at the age of 97. She next spoke about her burqa which she loved, “Oh, my burqa was of lovely silk and I was so glad I made petticoats out of it!” Bold and daring, that’s how she has been.

Further, she was asked about her tough life that she went through and the blue eyed lady immediately said, “Life’s been tough but I’ve been tougher. I beat life at its own game.” However, she polished her looks with sheer grit. She also sparked a joke, “You see me now when I am old and ugly, in fact you should have seen me earlier — when I was young and ugly!” She would bring a smile to whoever tread her path even at her own expense. Impressive isn’t it?

Her next interesting comment was when she was asked about her family. She said, “I’ve lived to the fullest — I’ve squeezed the best out of life. A good husband, children, family and most importantly my work – I am close to 100 and even with such a shriveled up face and figure I can boast that I’ve still got work, fame and money! I’ve not gone into oblivion.” She met her late husband Kameshwar Nath Segal, eight years her junior, while they toured together with Uday Shankar’s dance troupe.

This quote of her will surely make everyone laugh as she shared how she actually discovered a Western life and ‘bikini’. She shared, “I was staying with a countess and my nose was up in the air! I pooh-poohed girls in bare nothings taking bath in water fountains, thinking they are girls from economically challenged families. Alas, I realised that those ‘teeny-weeny things’ were actually called bikinis and were hot fashion items. I immediately discarded my Victorian bloomers (which I thought were quite aristocratic), and got into my first bikini.

Zohra Sehgal also made a direct comment on her husband, the late Kameshwar Nath Sehgal and his career. Kameshwar was 8 years younger to her and he was actually Zohra’s young student. She described him as a versatile talent who was a jack of all trades but who could master none. She said, “He was a talented artist, homoeopath, dancer and a cook… but he could not be famous.”

She also spoke about her inner beauty, “I don’t understand the hullabaloo about inner beauty. What actually makes brings out your beauty is the radiance of being content and you can only be content when you are employed in something you love. When admirers praise me for raising the paradigm for women in acting, I say b***s. What have I done for them consciously? Whatever I’ve done, I’ve done it for love of acting, fame and power. The love for life and work probably radiates as my inner beauty!”

Zohra, on her part, never gave up on life. Her further statement makes it clear. “I want to be blonde with blue eyes,” she said.”Life becomes drudgery if you don’t have a sense of humor. A good sense of humour makes you see the funny side of a tragedy.” She was proud that she had the fighting spirit in her. “There’s an energy that drives me; a voice that tells me every morning ‘You must go on’. Probably there would be a voice which tells me ‘Zohra, it’s time for you to stop’.”

Apart from all the comments given in an interview with TOI, we have a few other quotes which she gave on her 100th birthday celebrations. As per reports in Bollywoodlife.com, she said, “Abhi na jaana chhod kar… ki cake abhi kata nahin… ki pet abhi bhara nahin” (Don’t leave the party, the cake hasn’t been cut yet, tummy isn’t filled yet), recited the blue-eyed “baby” of entertainment. On her 100th birthday, actor-dancer Zohra Sehgal hummed her favourite sonnet, Abhi To Main Jawan Hoon by poet Hafeez Jullundhri as she cut a large chocolate cake.

Further while being on the podium with her family she said, “Ao ao, yeh mauka aur nahin milega (come, you will not get this opportunity again).” She commanded them to come onto the podium. She also shared about her inner fire that keeps her going. “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 euthanize me. I will sleep in peace with an injection,” she said (as reported in Bollywoodlife.com)

Zohra Sehgal was also interviewed by Mahesh Bhatt and on being asked by the director about how she feels when she looks back on her life, the blue eyed actress replied with extreme happiness, “Immense gratitude, I can still hear you, I can still taste my food and walk on my own feet.”

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With all these interesting comments given by Zohra Sehgal, all that we can say is we will miss you Zohraji! All in all, Mrs. Sehgal was life personified. We can learn from her how to live, and how to live well.

Rest in peace, Ma’am!