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Zohra Sehgal, Indian Actress Seen in ‘Bend It Like Beckham,’ Dead at 102

Indian actress and dancer, who became known as the grand old lady of Bollywood, passed away from heart failure on Thursday

One of India’s most beloved stars has died. Zohra Sehgal was a star of stage and screen in her native India, as well as making memorable appearances in international films like “Bend It Like Beckham.” She was hospitalized earlier this week with pneumonia, dying in the hospital on Thursday evening of heart failure, according to the Associated Press. She was 102.

Condolence messages from across India started coming in immediately. Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on Twitter, “Prolific & full of life, Zohra Sehgal made a mark through her acting, which is admired across generations. Saddened on her demise.”

Shri Pranub Mukherjee, President of India, tweeted, “Zohra Sehgal’s death leaves void in the world of art difficult to fill, heartfelt condolences to family, friends & fans.”

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Sehgal’s last film was “Saawariya,” translated as “Beloved,” in 2007. She was named “Laadli of the century” at the United Nationals Population Fund-Laadli Media Awards in 2008. Two years later, she received India’s second-highest civilian honor, the Padma Vibhushan.

Throughout her career, Sehgal was awarded some of India’s highest honors, including the Padma Shri in 1988 and the Kalidas Samman in 2001 and 2004. The Sangeet Natak Akademi, India’s National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama, presented her with a Fellowship for lifetime achievement.

Born into a traditional Muslim family in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India, she attended Queen Mary College where purdah was observed, restricting her interactions with males. After graduation, she was accepted into a prestigious ballet school in Germany.

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From there, her professional career kicked off, first as a dancer in 1935. The next decade saw Sehgal join a theater group in Mumbai alongside her sister, Uzra Butt, and from there she made her way into film.

She made her debut in “Dharti ke Lal” (“Sons of the Soil”) in 1946. She even worked her dance background into her film work, choreographing a few Hindi films.

Sehgal moved to the United Kingdom on a drama scholarship in 1963, where she made memorable appearances in several hit U.K. TV projects like “Doctor Who,” “Neighbours,” and “The Jewel in the Crown.”

In the 1990s, Sehgla made her way back to India and gained acclaim for her work in the theater, as well as on the screen, taking on more grandmotherly roles. In her later years, she became known as the grand old lady of Bollywood.

Sehgal will be cremated on Friday at 11 a.m.

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