Saira Banu has devoted several years of her life to just looking after her husband dilip Kumar who means everything to her. She loves him more than anything else in the world. Dilip Kumar completes 98 years on Friday, December 11 and the time was right to talk to Saira Banu about her long love story and quite a few other things which have happened in her personal and professional life as well. A bansuriwala had just arrived outside her bungalow and this man comes daily to play many songs of Dilip Kumar from his yesteryears’ hits. The song ‘Dil Diya Hai Jaan Bhi Denge’ from Subhash Ghai’s ‘Karma’ was playing in the background as Saira Banu settled down to speak to us.
We begin from the time when you first saw Dilip saab. What did you think of him when you first saw him?
Right from there? Okay, so be it. While my brother Sultan and I studied in England, my mother Naseem Banu would take us for a holiday to Europe in our vacations which began sometime in July and from there, she would always bring us to India without fail. She was insistent that we never lose track of our Indian values. So yes, while I had seen Dilip saab’s ‘Aan’ in London, I saw him for the first time in person at Mumbai’s Mehboob Studios- he was wearing a plain white shirt, white trousers and white chappals. And my God! He had such lovely free-flowing hair, just in sync with his song ‘Ude Zulfen Jab Jab Teri’ from ‘Naya Daur’. He looked so polished and sophisticated and so different from everyone around. It was a party by Mehboob Khan (director of ‘Mother India’) and I met him. I fell in love with him almost instantly; I was just 12 then. Even if he was leaning on a chair or standing against a wall, you could easily make out that this is a man of different fibre and of superior material.
Dilip saab didn’t want me to be cast in ‘Ram Aur Shyam’, ‘Leader’ and ‘Shagird’
So, how did it go further? I mean, who took the first step?
Well, Dilip saab was a family friend; he knew my parents. So we were always invited when there was a function at his place- and vice versa. Time rolled by. I did my first film ‘Junglee’ and it became a hit.
That film was the first one to bring the real colour on the big screen, which was Eastmancolor. My name cropped up when the casting of Dilip saab starrers ‘Ram Aur Shyam’ and ‘Sangharsh’ was being done; they came to my house to offer the film. But it met with Dilip saab’s disapproval.
Dilip saab thought I was still too young. And, he was always conscious that he’s a bit older to me. Not just that, he even felt that I was not heroine material as I was very shy and quiet. And during those days. Mehmood and Mumtaz were a hit comedy pair. Mehmood went up to Dilip saab with scenes from Mumtaz’s films and asked that Mumtaz should be given a chance in ‘Ram aur Shyam’. That’s how Mumtaz entered the A-grade category and shot to fame. Of course she was very good- tall, well-built and talented. There wasn’t much age difference between Mumtaz and I, but Dilip saab preferred to cast her.
I was terribly cross with him. I became very defiant and anxious. Even in ‘Leader’ which had Dilip saab as the hero, of course, he wanted to cast Priya Rajvansh and not me. But as destiny would have hit, mera naya ghar ban gaya tha at Pali Hill, the same area where Dilip saab resided. My mother and my entire family were Dilip saab’s fans and they had deliberately chosen a plot very close to his house. We had a housewarming party and it was done on my birthday in 1966. Around that time, Dilip saab had faced personal problems in Mumbai and shifted to South. Apparently, my mother invited him and he said he would try to come. And guess what! As I came down the stairs, I got to see Dilip saab getting out from a beautiful car wearing a fantastic suit with a tie. He walked in and shook hands with me. The next thing I heard was, “You have grown up to be a beautiful girl”. The next morning he telephoned.
Dilip saab is made of a different fibre
He said, ‘Saira, bol rahi hain?‘. But I hadn’t let go off the fact that he had not approved of working with me. I was still annoyed. So, I was a bit gruff with him. I replied, ‘Aap mujhe kyun yaad kar rahe hain? Aapaji (he used to call my mom, Aapaji) ko phone doon?‘. He said, ‘Nahin, nahin. Mujhe aapka shukriya karna tha, it was a beautiful party and you were looking very beautiful’. Wahan se shuruaat hui hamare phone conversations ki. I was shooting for ‘Pyar Mohabbat’ and ‘Jhuk Gaya Aasman’ in those days, while he was shooting for ‘Ram aur Shyam’ and ‘Aadmi’ in Madras (now Chennai). He started flying to Mumbai every evening after pack-up, he would have dinner with us and go back the next morning. This continued for 7 days. On the 4th day, he said that he’s not the kind of person who would ask me directly for going out for a drive but would like to take permission for the same from my mother and grandmother. He took permission from both and we went to Cuffe Parade. We got down from the car and started talking. Soon, he popped up the question: ‘Will you marry me?’ (laughs). Just imagine! I replied rather sarcastically, ‘How many girls have you told this to?’ (laughs). He started laughing and said, ‘I understand. I haven’t worked with you and you are angry with me . Main kya karoon, mujhe hamesha lagta tha that you are too young‘. I told him that things like marriage should be spoken to elders. He said that we should go right back and talk to them. We hadn’t shifted to my new Pali Hill home till then, but were staying at Napean Sea Road, Sea Belle Apartments. He returned and asked even my grandmother for ijaazat.
You married a huge superstar. Was it difficult to adjust, maybe initially at least?
We were both well-placed in our careers. Dilip saab did far fewer films than he actually could have. It was not a difficult adjustment for me. Dilip saab had no airs and he has been very down-to-earth always.
Take us through Dilip saab’s simplicity…
He’s someone who would pick up food from any of his staff’s plates and eat. He would take a bidi from his staffer who was already smoking it. Unko zindagi mein koi bhi nakhre nahi hain. His suits were out of the world but his real self would relax in a white kurta-pyjama. Jo khaana de doh unko, un mein khush rehte hain. Also, he himself can cook many things. He loves eggs, he knows how to make at least a dozen kind of omelettes. But he wants his food very hot; in fact there’s a running joke in our family- we say unki chai ko kambal odhna chahiye when it comes to his morning tea (laughs). The same applies to his soup. Even his sisters and brothers like their food very hot. I used to tell him that so much heat in food and tea is not good for his health, but he doesn’t like it much even if it is lukewarm. But his simplicity has cost him.
Cost him what?
He has had many associates in his business life whom he trusted but they let him down all along. I used to tell him that why did he trust so many people. I could see through many of them. But whenever I told him, he would turn around and shoot back: ‘Look at such-n-such virtue of this man’. I would get really irritated because he would always forgo their flaws.
Did he ever realise this mistake of his and tell you that you were right?
No. He has always been a very private person. I never heard from him even about the women he worked with. I have tried to goad out of him what about this one, what about that one- but never succeeded. ( TOI )