Google Doodle embraces the legacy of India’s theatre doyen Zohra Sehgal

By Tenzin Norzom|29th Sep 2020
On the anniversary of Zohra Sehgal's Neecha Nagar release at the Cannes Film Festival in 1946, here's a look at the legendary actor and dancer's life and contribution to theatre and cinema.
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Google Doodle on Tuesday remembered Indian actress and dancer Zohra Sehgal, marking the release day of her film Neecha Nagar (Lowly City) at the Cannes Film Festival in 1946 that also became the first Indian film to win the Grand Prix Award.


Besides acting, she had also choreographed the film’s opening dance sequence. The doodle is a tribute to “one of the country’s first female actors to truly achieve recognition on the international stage."


Zohra passed away at 102 in July 2014.


With an illustrious career spanning over seven decades, Zohra was known as a feisty actor, one not afraid to speak her mind. The first Indian student at Mary Wigman’s Ballet School in Germany, she began her career as a performer by joining Uday Shankar’s troupe and travelled across Europe, Japan, Egypt, and the US between 1935 and 1940.


Along with her husband Kameshwar Sehgal, she founded the Zohresh Dance Institute in Lahore during pre-independence India before moving to Bombay due to partition. She then joined Prithvi Theatre and toured nearly every Indian city.


With her debut film Dharti Ke Lal (1946), Zohra who was an established theatre artist till then, made her mark on the silver screen.


Zohra Segal

A young Zohra Sehgal (Picture courtesy: Google Arts and Culture)


Born on April 27, 1912 in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh (then United Provinces of India under British Raj), she is remembered for her work in Indian and international films and series including Dil Se, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Veer Zara, Saawariya, Bend It Like Bekham, Doctor Who, and The Jewel in Crown, among many others.


Zohra has worked with and entertained people across generations – she worked with Prithvi Raj Kapoor early in her career and has shared screen space with his great grandson Ranbir Kapoor. The veteran artist ehas also worked with Bollywood actors Dev Anand, Amitabh Bachchan, Ashok Kumar, among others.


As an artist, she regaled the audience like no other and her contribution to theatre and cinema has been recognised with prestigious awards including Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1963), Padma Shri (1998), Kalidas Samman (2001), and Padma Vibhushan (2010).


Zohra wrote and published her autobiography, Close-Up: Memoirs of a Life on Stage and Screen in 2010, recollecting her experiences as an artiste.


She wrote, “A lot of it seems to have taken place very, very long time ago, as if in another life, and yet parts of it are as vivid as yesterday.”

Artist Parvati Pillai – who illustrated the doodle – is one of the many lives Zohra has touched. “She (Zohra) overcame social and cultural stereotypes with her sheer tenacity and infectious passion from a very young age. I grew up watching her as the evergreen granny and have been enthralled by her love for acting and dancing, especially in her twilight years. She taught me what it meant to be passionate about my work and to never be afraid of new challenges,” Parvati told Google.

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