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Mainstream, VOL L, No 19, April 28, 2012

’Acting Is My Life’: Zohra Segal

Monday 30 April 2012


Zohra Segal, the grand old lady of Indian dance and theatre, is turning 100 this week—she was born on April 27, 1912. She was the leading actress and dancer with the Prithvi Theatre, Bombay from 1945 to 1959. She has to her credit scores of feature films in India and abroad. One of her sisters, Azra Butt, also a prominent actress with the Prithvi Theatre, migrated to Pakistan where she was a noted stage actress; she has now passed away.

More than twenty years ago, when Zohra was doing a lead role in Lorca’s play ‘The House of Bernarda Alba’, produced by the National School of Drama Theatre Repertory Company, she spoke to Shamsul Islam about theatre and her role, and the interview appeared in the Sunday Magazine section of Indian Express on December 29, 1991. Excerpts from the interview are being reproduced here with due acknowledgement on this occasion.

When did your acting career begin?

Basically I am a theatre actress and a dancer. I started my acting career with Prithvi Theatre, Bombay in the forties. Earlier I was a leading dancer with the Uday Shankar Ballet Company for ten years. My first feature film, Neecha Nagar, was directed by Chetan Anand. Kamini Kaushal and myself were in lead roles.

Why did you decide to work with the NSD Theatre Repertory Company? How did you find this Repertory?

Frankly speaking, I have never witnessed any of their productions. It is on Ebrahim Alkazi’s insistence that I am here. Even during his stewardship of the NSD in the seventies he wanted to take me to the Repertory Company but others were not agreeable to the idea. So it is the fulfilment of that wish. And I hope to fulfil Alkazi’s expectations.

The Repertory Company is really a professional group which we do not find in any other part of the Hindi belt. Some of the actresses are highly talented; they will go a long way. I have not seen the boys at work so I am not in a posi-tion to pass judgement on them.

How do you like Bernarda’s role in Lorca’s play?

It is known as Qudsia in the Urdu version. I am fascinated by this role. It would be any actor’s ambition and dream to perform it.

In England, the famous actress Glenda Jackson did the same role two years back. It is very challenging for me too.

What inspires you to be so active on the theatre front?

This is my life, my source of everything. One famous Russian ballet director once said: “The most lucky person is he who works in a field which he loves.” And I am that lucky self. I am in love with acting. The bug of acting has bitten me. I do not think I can survive minus acting.

What is your perception of today’s Indian theatre scene as a woman actress?

Here I will bracket England with India. Rarely there are plays on women’s issues. The plays are dominated by male actors. In fact, Lorca’s play was planned in the Repertory Company because the other two productions of Girish Karnad and Shakespeare had almost no female roles.

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