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Zohra Sehgal – The crossover star

Before Priyanka Chopra, before Nimrat Kaur, before Mindy Kaling, there was Zohra Sehgal. The danseuse moved to the UK to make fleeting appearances in some memorable television series decades before it became a trend among Indian film stars.

Shriram Iyengar

Priyanka Chopra is not the first Indian to star in a television series. Neither is Nimrat Kaur. That privilege goes to the unassuming, and forever young, Zohra Sehgal.

The feisty, multi-faceted woman, who passed away in 2014, was among the first Indians to appear on foreign television screens. The danseuse-actress had several firsts to her name, including being the first Indian to study at Mary Wigman's prestigious ballet school in Dresden, Germany. She was also the first, and only, Indian to feature in the cult classic 'Dr Who' series.

Here is a series of television shows that you did not know Zohra Sehgal was in. 

1. The Rescue Of Pluffles (1964) 
Her television debut might not have been much to gloat about, but it was still a classic. Based on Rudyard Kipling's eponymous short story, the series saw Zohra Sehgal make her TV debut as the doughty Indian ayah to Barbara Murray's Mrs Hauksbee. 

2. Doctor Who (1964) 
This was the big one in her kitty. The television programme that began in 1963 remains the longest running sci-fi television series in the world. 

3. Theatre 625 (1967) 
Between 1964 and 1968, BBC produced several television snippets of theatrical plays adapted from short stories. The series featured plays directed by Harold Pinter and Cedric Messina, among others. One such episode was 55 Columns, based on an Usha Priyamvada short story. The play had Zohra Sehgal partnering familiar faces like Roshan Seth and Edward De Souza. 

4. It Ain't Half Hot Mum (1974) 
Written by Jim Perry and David Croft, this television series was the tale of a Royal Artillery Concert Party in India. Zohra Sehgal joined the cast for a very short while, but by then she was a familiar face on British television. 

5. Mind Your Language (1978) 
Her next appearance on British television was in the hit comedy series, Mind Your Language. A show about a hapless English teacher, portrayed by Barry Evans, trying to teach the language to foreign students, it was among the biggest hits of its time. Zohra Sehgal had a guest appearance on the series playing Ranjeet Singh's mother. Even in a guest appearance, the spark of this talented actress was there for all to see. 

6. Jewel In The Crown (1984) 
Based on Paul Scott's famous Raj Quartet of novels, Jewel In The Crown was an epic television series portraying British life in India during and after World War II. Zohra Sehgal joined a talented cast of actors including Peggy Ashcroft, Om Puri, Kamini Kaushal, and Art Malik. She played Lili Chatterjee.

7. Tandoori Nights (1985) 
This was the last of her appearances on British television before she moved back to India. In Tandoori Nights, she played the mother of Saeed Jaffery's restaurateur. The series had a sly nod to one of Sehgal's earlier television adventures. Jaffery's restaurant was named 'Jewel In The Crown Tandoori Restaurant'.