PASSINGS: Zohra Sehgal

Beloved Bollywood actress and dancer Zohra Sehgal has died in New Delhi at 102.

Zohra Sehgal, 102, a revered Indian actress and dancer who charmed audiences with her impish grin and twinkling eyes, died Thursday in New Delhi, her family said. She had been hospitalized with pneumonia and died of heart failure.

Sehgal appeared in Bollywood blockbusters, including “Bhaji on the Beach” (1993), “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam” (1999) and “Kal Ho Naa Ho” (2003).

She also appeared in “The Jewel in the Crown,” the 1984 miniseries about the last days of the British Raj in India; “My Beautiful Laundrette,” a 1985 comedy-drama of race relations in Britain; and “Bend It Like Beckham,” the popular 2002 film about the soccer-playing daughter of an Indian family in London.

One of seven children, she was born Zohra Mumtaz on April 27, 1912, in the northern Indian state Uttar Pradesh. Although she lost the sight in one eye as an infant, she trained as a contemporary dancer in Germany in the early 1930s and by 1935 was a member of the dance company of Uday Shankar, brother of sitar master Ravi Shankar.


In 1942 she married artist-dancer Kameshwar Sehgal, with whom she founded a dance school in Lahore. But she also wanted to act and, in 1945, joined the Prithvi Theatre. She toured India with the company for more than a dozen years.

She began to steadily appear in films in the early 1980s, beginning with a part in the Merchant-Ivory production “The Courtesans of Bombay.” In 1984 she earned admiring notices for her performance as Lady Chatterjee in “The Jewel in the Crown.”

“Being short, plump and ordinary, I had to work hard to get noticed,” she once said. “I knew I was not beautiful enough to be a leading lady.”

In the 1990s, after she moved back to India, she appeared with her actress sister Uzra Butt, from whom she had been long separated by the 1947 partition of India, in a play based on their lives.

Times staff and wire reports