Remembering the legendary Zohra Segal
We revisit some fascinating nuggets from her legendary life, excerpted from her daughter Kiran Segal's book called Zohra Segal 'Fatty'.
Being with Uday Shankar in her younger days and having worked out his teaching syllabus at the Almora Centre (she was one of the teachers there), Ammi had all the experience needed and this helped her immensely when she joined Prithvi Theatres.
Excerpted with permission from Niyogi Books from Zohra Segal 'Fatty' by Kiran Segal. Rs 1,250.
Image: Zohra Segal on the cover of the book Zohra Segal Fatty
'All the actors of Prithvi Theatres were students of my mother'
She was extremely strict and very good as a teacher. I don't think anybody ever missed her classes at the theatre. My mother never took any nonsense from anyone and knew how to put the 'cheeky ones' in their place.
She would start off the class with the body warming exercises which she had learnt under 'Dada' (Uday Shankar) and then proceed with the dances -- revision or new compositions. This was also my initial training in dance with her. She had an excellent dancer in a young boy called Suresh Bhatt who went on to give dance-direction for films.
She had composed a 'Shiv Tandav' piece for him which he danced exquisitely -- I still remember him taking those high leaps and turns when he did the dance. Some of her other disciples were Ruma Ganguly, who was Kishroe Kumar's first wife; Gopa Lal; Hira; Indumati Lele, who has her won group of dancers now; Kumud (Lele) Shankar, who married Sachin Shankar; Satyanarayan, who became a dance-director in Boolywood; Prayagraj Sharma, the famous film scriptwriter and several more who have made a name for themselves in one field or another.
In any case, all the actors of Prithvi Theatres were students of my mother -- even now, whenever Shashi Kapoor meets her, he starts doing all the hand exercises which she had taught him!
Image: Zohra Segal practising in her cabin for Varsha Mangal
'Ammi gave one of her best performances in Amma and Family'
There was episode where she did a double role. Her original character was that of a grandmother and her double was an actress from England, very westernized and very 'full of herself'.
I thought Ammi gave one of her best performances in that role. I often teased her after that and told her, "I am sure this is what you really wanted to be!" Of course, she just laughs it off.
Image: Zohra Segal with Kameshwar Segal (Zohra Segal's husband) in The Lotus Dance, choreographed by Kamleswar, Lahore 1945
'Looking forward to home sweet home'
She wrote: "The weather here is absolutely lovely. For lunch we have very good vegetarian and non-vegetarian food from a 'Gujjoo' restaurant... for dinner I order by room service, some of the dishes are not bad. I usually spice up the stodgy soup with extra hot chilly sauce and add green chillies to the cole slaw-mayonnaise garnish, which they serve with every sandwich order.
The garlic bread is also nice, but I am already looking forward to home-cooked food and home sweet home!"
Image: Zohra Segal, Kiran and Pavan (Zohra Segal's daughter and son) with Prithviraj Kapoor, London, 1960
'When she faced the camera she was a different person altogether, bursting with energy and life!'
But when she faced the camera she was a different person altogether, bursting with energy and life! One day she filmed from morning till approximately 8 pm.
I am sure if the director had not stopped she would have still gone on despite her tiredness, the humidity and the army of mosquitoes. Those were four glorious and fun-filled days that I spent with my mother despite her tiring schedule.
Image: Alice bonner, Uday Shankar, Beatrice, Uzra (Zohra's sister), Zohra Segal, Dartmoor, Devon
'Once she is working she loses all sense of time'
I told her, "Well I hardly did anything except jumping up to answer the telephone and order the food and, bedsides, you always have someone with you." She replied, "No, no, it's different with you." I was quite flattered.
Incidentally, she did the same thing of working from morning till evening when she was shooting an advertisement with the cricketer Shoaib Akhtar. Work started in the morning and didn't finish till the evening.
The result was that she fell ill. I have tried to make her understand, but once she is working she loses all sense of time -- come to think of it, we are all like that!
Image: Zohra Segal with Ben Kingsley during the filming of Harem
'In those days shooting was extremely uncomfortable'
To us they were Usha Aunty and Bonnie Aunty and of course Uma Aunty who was Chetan Uncle's wife and their two kids 'Kunki' (Ketan) and 'Gunnu' (Vivek), who was always roaming about nangu-pangu (naked).
Since this house was built on a hill ithad odd entrances. If you approached it from atop the hill the Anands' level was the ground floor and our floors were beneath, but if you entered the house from our entrance then the Anands' floor was the second floor!
He had already acted in a few films under the Navketan banner. Guru Dutt, who was also a friend of my parents and, therefore, a frequent visitor, was making Baazi, starring Dev Anand and Geeta Bali. Ammi had been asked to provide the dance-direction for Baazi.
I remember being taken for the shooting of a song-and-dance sequence by Geeta Bali and a group. The song was 'Dek ke akeli, mohe barkha sataye re, gallon ko choomein kabhi chintein udaye re, tip, tip, tip, tiptiptip.' All the dancers had polka-dotted umbrellas, which they used for a particular dance movement.
In those days shooting was extremely uncomfortable -- there was no air-conditioning; huge fans would be switched on between shots and switched off during the shooting.
There would be pin-drop silence once the shout of 'SILENCE' was heard. The make-up man would be perpetually on duty with his 'pancake', 'puff' and 'mirror'.
Image: Another delightful performance in television serial Amma and Family, Sanawar
'Waheeda wore a horrible pink dress but it came out fine in the black-and-white film'
This was Waheeda Rehman's first film in which she played a vamp. I was on the sets of the film and could not understand why they had made her wear a horrible pink dress but, of course, it came out fine in the black-and-white film.
The other films that Ammi provided the dance-direction for were Badnam starring Balraj Sahni and Shyama, directed by DD Keshav, and Helen's first film, Faraar, starring Kishore Kumar. Ammi also acted in this film.
Image: Zohra Segal, Aishwarya Rai and others in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, 1999
'Ammi hated poetry'
Image: Zohra Segal with Amitabh Bachchan in Cheeni Kum, directed by R Balki, 2007