Why are we organising a festival for my mother?’ Maybe, it’s because we don’t want to forget her,” says Kiran Segal, as she announces the first Zohra Segal Festival of Arts in Delhi, to be held at India International Centre (IIC) on April 23 and 24. Zohra, a diva of the stage and screen, would have turned 104 on April 27.
Luminaries from art and culture are coming together for the event, which has been organised in association with Raza Foundation. Kapila Vatsyayan, a scholar of the arts, who had known Zohra since her youth will be a part of a panel discussion, titled “Zohra Segal: Personal Reminiscences”.
Zohra, who loved a good party, would host friends and cut a large cake on every birthday. Last year, her first birth anniversary after she died at the age of 102, artistes and friends gathered at IIC and celebrated with performances and a cake. “This time, we decided to have a formal festival,” says Kiran.
Zohra was a dancer before acting claimed her for its own. She had been a part of Uday Shankar’s Dance Centre at Almora until 1943 and had opened Zoresh Dance Institute in Lahore with her husband. She also helmed Natya Academy — Delhi Natya Sangh in the 1960s and established the National Folk Dance Ensemble in Delhi in 1974. Zohra has left behind a legacy whose youngest follower is her 22-year-old great grandaughter Madhyama Segal. Madhyama, who has trained in Odissi, will showcase four solo pieces on the first evening, among them Jago Maheswara that has elements of tandava.
“The festival will be in Ma’s honour but is not limited to her works. We wanted to increase its ambit to include a number of art forms,” says Kiran, pointing out that the evening will conclude with Dastangoi, a 16th century Urdu storytelling form. The piece, titled Dastan-e-Chouboli, is an adaptation of a Rajasthani folk tale and will be presented by Poonam Girdhani and Ankit Chadha.
In the foyer, a selection of around 40 photographs, curated by actor Oroon Das, will draw out the many moods and expressions of Zohra, a winner of the Padma Vibhushan, among other awards. “The way I am imagining this exhibition is as a scrapbook of her life. Some photographs are from Zohra ji’s old albums and were taken by her Brownie camera when she was a child. There are images of school trips, little plays staged in parks and of places she visited or stayed in,” says Das. There is not much information available of Zohra’s early life — she shot to mainstream consciousness in India after returning from London in 1987 — and the exhibition provides a glimpse into the life she had led, as a single mother, a young dancer learning Eurythmics in Germany, and as an artiste.
The second day has two performances — both classics. The morning starts with Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan, a play enacted by Salima Raza and Banwari Taneja, which draws on letters exchanged in the 1950s by poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, then in jail, and his wife, Alys.
The curtain will fall with Habib Tanvir’s Naya Theatre, which returns to Delhi with Charandas Chor, the story of a thief whose luck runs out when he refuses to break a vow made to his guru, among them never to tell a lie. “Habib sahab was at IPTA at a time when my mother was the first secretary of the group. Even I didn’t know this,” says Kiran.