Padma Shri Padma Zohra Sehgal or the ‘Grand old lady of India’ as she is called is a fearless icon for many young girls finding their own ground even today. Born on 27th April in 1912, Zohra was unconventional from the start, and a non conformist. Sehgal lived her life on her own terms, as an exemplary danseuse, actor and person. Not without challenges. Not without family struggles. Not without having purdah for most part of her teenage life.

But did anything stop her? Not at all.

Sahibzadi Zohra Begum Mumtaz-ullah Khan, better known as Zohra, was born into a Sunni Muslim Rohilla Pathan family of Rampur, Uttar Pradesh. She traveled all across India, West Asia and Europe dancing in the troupe of Uday Shankar. Eventually she reached Mumbai to foster her long desire to act in films. The city of dreams didn’t disappoint her.

Most of her Hindi film career, she played granny roles, adding to the character an artsy touch of unique innocence and naughtiness. Here are some of her most iconic roles.

Google Doodle

The iconic actress was celebrated by Google Doodle on its homepage. Her toothy smile, and raspy laughter is a hallmark of her many roles. But most important in all her portrayals was a sense of rebel, a feminism that pushes boundaries and encouraged ‘living’ on one’s own terms. As an artist, she  was among the country’s first artists to get global recognition.  The special doodle, that showed the legendary actress in a classical dance posture, was designed by artist Parvati Pillai.

Zohra Sehgal google doodle
Google Doodle with the lovely Zohra Sehgal

Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam

Remember the supercool dadi in the movie, who despite being visually impaired, could see with the eyes of her wisdom? Effortless perfection.

zohra lightCheeni Kum

The unconventional mother of a 60 year old, Zohra Sehgal brought joy and enthusiasm to the role of a mother who has the same aspirations for her single son as any other mother.

Remembering Zohra Sehgal
The mother who wants her 60 year old son to marry: Zohra Sehgal in Cheeni Kum (Picture Credit: BBC)

Also read: Celebrating Meena Kumari’s life

Doctor Who

Zohra Sehgal
Zohra Sehgal in Dr Who (Picture Credit: tardis.wikia)

She was also a part of popular English culture, with a science fiction TV of the 60s Series called ‘Doctor Who’, where she played the servant girl ‘Shreyah’. From the very beginning of post-independence cinema, Zohra was one of the pioneers who made the presence of Indian art and artists felt globally.

The Vengeance of She

Zohra Sehgal
Zohra Sehgal’s character in the film was called ‘Putri’ (Picture Credit:

The happy and bubbly old woman of Bollywood often took to international stage, with some great movies, and ‘The vengeance of she’ is one of them. It was a well received fictional work of the late 60’s.

Also read: On her birth anniversary: Lalita Pawar and the art of playing wicked

Dharti Ke Lal

Zohra Sehgal
Zohra Sehgal’s debut film: Dharti Ke Lal (Picture Credit:

She was also a part of Dharti ke laal, the first movie to have the most widespread distribution in USSR. This was also her debut film, and went on to be a critically very well received, as it accurately portrayed the morbid picture of the Bengal Famine of 1943.

Bend It Like Beckham

One character we are forgetting is Zohra Sehgal as Biji! Yes, this Indian drama set in England also had India’s iconic Zohra Sehgal playing Biji. Don’t believe us, check that film CD and find it out for yourself.

Zohra Sehgal
Remembering Zohra Sehgal on her birthday 

Having lived a rare hundred years, Zohra Sehgal passed away in 2014 at 102. But left us with some great celluloid memories. She was born on 27th April in 1912.