In pictures: Moments from Zohra Segal's life

A sassy actor, elegant dancer and a dauntless mother -- Zohra Segal remains one of the most unforgettable women Indian cinema will ever see. SMD turns the pages of her life, as recounted by her daughter, Kiran Segal


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    Three of Seven Actually Uzra’s (Zohra Segal’s younger sister) moving to Pakistan pained her a lot and although they had been together as young girls as dancers in Uday Shankar’s troupe they had become very close only after my mother joined Prithvi Theatre in October 1945. During Uday Shankar’s tours from 1936 to 1938, when her younger sister joined the troupe, they were together but never close. Ammi being the older one used to boss her a lot. Punctuality was of utmost importance during tours, especially as trains, buses and ships had to be caught on time. My mother would (and still does) keep her alarm clock five minutes fast. Since the sisters were sharing a room, Ammi would get ready and scold Uzra Khala (Aunt) for not getting ready! Uzra Khala resented this, but half-way through the ‘coast-to-coast’ tour of America, she found out about the clock being fast and then onwards took her own sweet time to get ready. Ammi held quite an important position in the troupe as ‘Uday Shankar’s partner after Simkie’; her younger sister was part of the group along with Madhavan Nair and ‘Robu’ (Ravi Shankar). Ammi laughingly remembers how, whenever something would come out in the papers, she would always ask Uzra: “Dekho, dekho, mere barey mein kuch nikla hai?” (Is there something about me?) She confesses that she was very full of herself, to which I retort, “Well, you still are like that!” During her Prithvi Theatre days, she used to take one corner in the make-up room at Opera House and nobody dared to touch any of her belongings, not even my aunt Uzra, who was actually Prithviraj Kapoor’s (called ‘Papaji’) leading lady in most of the plays. ‘Zohra di’, as she was known in the theatre, was very particular about her make-up box, costume and jewellery due to her training with Uday Shankar. In spite of my mother’s position and dominating nature, Ammi feels that people remember Uzra more than her because of her exceptional beauty and, hence Ammi developed a complex and tried very hard to be charming and attract attention. Personally I feel my aunt had a sweeter and more amiable nature. My mother till today remembers a comment when, after a performance in America, someone came backstage to meet them and asked for ‘Miss Mumtaz’. The doorman near their dressing room queried, “Which one; the one with the big eyes or the one with the big hips?” Excerpted and edited with permission from Zohra Segal: Fatty, by Kiran Segal. Published by Niyogi Books India. In pic: Zohra Segal in the 1930s. Pics courtesy/Zohra Segal: Fatty, by Kiran Segal. Published by Niyogi Books India

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