Women of substance

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By Actress Zohra Segal and daughter Kiran are both headstrong individuals, but seldom let that come between them (As told to Hoihnu Hauzel) Photograph by Rupinder Sharma in Zohra
  • Published 23.12.06
Zohra Sehgal (left) shares a moment of camaraderie with daughter Kiran

Zohra Segal has done it all. The 94-year-old actress-dancer was once a leading lady at Prithvi Theatre and a lead dancer of the Uday Shankar Ballet Company, back in days before Independence.

Today, the nonagenarian is still belting along at full speed. She has just finished shooting for Cheeni Kam with Amitabh Bachchan and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Sawariya to be released next year, among others. She still makes regular appearances in the movies.

Zohra lives with her daughter Kiran who’s a highly reputed Odissi dancer. Both have won Padmashrees for their work in their respective fields. They are both headstrong and but seldom let that come between them.


As a child, Kiran was shy but was terrific on stage. She was a good dancer and a performer. I often took her to Prithvi theatre during my dance and practice sessions. I had even composed a dance sequence for her based on Rabindranath Tagore’s Season.

Nevertheless, she was a reluctant performer. I remember on one occasion, she was so nervous that I had to literally push her onto the stage. It was her first solo performance.

As individuals, Kiran and I are both headstrong. We have our own ideas and that sometimes leads to clashes. But we do have many lovely moments together. She has kept me with her with all my idiosyncrasies and demands. But I try to be less of a burden to her by trying to organise myself. For instance, I make my own bed and go down to the dining room for my meals. These days, who keeps their mother with them anyway?

Kiran thinks I am somewhat self- centred and that I always love to seek attention. Of course, I don’t deny this. But what keeps me going today is gratitude. There is an energy within me that makes me strong. There is a spring of joy within and even a small thing like a good joke keeps me going.

The greatest thing about Kiran is that she goes by the dictates of her conscience. Despite great difficulties, she has never gone to anybody for help. She has never bent her principles. It has not been easy for her to keep going but she has sweated her way forward.

Since I live with her I am naturally close to Kiran but I’m equally close to my younger son Pavan. He lives in South Africa and works for the World Health Organisation. He’s so far away from me but I always look forward to his visits.

I think I am a morally strong person and I don’t tend to look for mental support to anyone, be it Kiran or anyone else. Even when I had a knee implant, I believed in my own strength.

I cannot say how much of an influence I have been on Kiran in terms of her professional choice. I was rather disappointed when she opted for classical dance and not theatre, which I am so fond of.

But I have never interfered in her life and her choices. That is something I learnt from my father. When I wanted to get married to my late husband, Kameshwar, who was a Hindu, my father had reservations.

He later agreed but on the condition that the marriage took place in another town. As we were leaving and getting into the car, my father came and asked me: “Zohra, shall I come with you.” I told him that he had granted me the permission to get married and that was more than enough. My father gave me the freedom to decide the most important thing in my life. I did the same thing with my children. I let them be because I trust them.


My first exposure to theatre was at Prithvi where my mother was a leading lady for many years. I would often tag along and in the process learnt by watching what took place. For instance, I watched them apply make-up and learnt how it was done. Though I have performed in the theatre, I was a reluctant performer. I was never very enthusiastic about it.

I have a very comfortable relationship with my mother who has always been around me. The good thing about her is that I can discuss anything and everything with her.

I don’t always discuss problems and plans but I do go to her when I am in a fix. Most people don’t even know I am her daughter. I have never used her name to get things done.

My mother is calm and composed. She has always been a strong individual. I remember we went through a tough phase in 1994. She had an operation on her knee and her left leg. In the same year, my father’s elder brother passed away. My mother was in the hospital and it could have been a dreadful situation had it not been for her vivacity and strength. She’s a bundle of energy and that helps to keep me going.

My mother has never interfered in my life and my decisions. Even when my first marriage broke up and I was getting married for the second time, she kept silent. I know how disappointed she was. I now realise as I reflect, that, she didn’t say anything about it.

Now, despite a busy schedule with teaching and giving performances, I make it a point to share meals with my mother, if I am not travelling. And if she goes out of town for shoots, I usually accompany her. I did this recently when she went to Mumbai. It was just the two of us chilling out and having a good laugh. We laugh a lot.