#BigInterview! Saira Banu: I am looking after Dilip Kumar not for being praised but out of sheer love – Times of India
This is not just an UNMISSABLE but a steal, never-grow-old and candid interview. Read on…
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
‘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.
A girl who was supposedly his girlfriend took sleeping pills on the day of our engagement
When girls surrounded him, did you get possessive and insecure?
Not really. It would never affect me. Even the day we got engaged, one girl- not from the industry- who was supposedly his girlfriend and had been almost up to the altar with him, took sleeping pills. Dilip saab had to rush to her and make her understand that he’s in love with me. He pacified her and came back to the engagement ceremony. I got sort of used to such things. There were girls who would stand in front of his car and wish that the car runs over them.
Every day I pray that Madhubala’s soul should rest in peace
A lot has been written about his equation with Madhubala, Vyjayanthimala and Kamini Kaushal…
I never minded stories of the beautiful women associated with Dilip saab. I had placed my entire trust in him. My marriage was a dream come true for me. I had pasted his pictures in my room even before we got married. The only other person who made it to those walls was Rock Hudson. And let me tell you, I always, in fact, every day pray for Madhubala’s soul to rest in peace; she was so young when she passed away and I feel terrible about it. And let me also tell you that Dilip saab and Vyjayanthimala had a fallout and were not so cordial to each other at some point; I met her at a function and I was instrumental in patching them up- and till date, Vyjayanthimala and I are in touch. We two became so close to each other after that and she treats me like her younger sister; I call her ‘Akka’. I am a great admirer of her work.
I said ‘no’ to ‘Naagin’ and ‘Muqaddar Ka Sikandar‘
Even today, the way you look after him is so commendable. You have a staff but still…
The staff has to be monitored all the while. But this is something that comes naturally to me. You see, I have worked and travelled so much that I reached a point of saturation. I remember coming from Beirut and in the next 4 hours, I was taking off to Japan. I returned from Kashmir with Amitabh Bachchan after shooting with him and in the next few hours, I was off to America. I was crisscrossing Dilip saab too much. I had signed films with Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna. Add this to the films I had signed with other heroes and mind you, I decided to withdraw from them. I realised that I wasn’t being able to have a cup of morning tea with my husband and he’s still being so good about it. I was offered ‘Guide’ but could not say yes to Dev saab as I had committed to ‘Hubba Khatoon’. I said ‘no’ to ‘Muqaddar Ka Sikandar’. Ironically, ‘Hubba Khatoon’ didn’t happen for me as Dilip saab didn’t do that film as he felt that his role was quite negative. I said ‘no’ to even ‘Naagin’ and at least 35-40 more films.
Correct me if I am wrong but you had stopped acting after marriage but shot back with double strides…
Actually, it was understood after our marriage I shall not act in any more movies. But Dilip saab saw the rushes of ‘Shagird’ and told me that I was so good that it would be criminal of him to stop me from working further. After that, Manoj Kumar came to Dilip saab to ask that he wanted me to do ‘Purab aur Paschim’, followed by Mehmood for ‘Padosan’. Manoj used to call him ‘Raja saab’ after ‘Aadmi’. Both Manoj and Mehmood said that they would shelve ‘Purab aur Paschim’ and ‘Padosan’ if he didn’t allow me to get into their movies. Post that, I was flooded with offers and I was back.
Dilip saab never told me yeh costume kyun pehna or yeh scene kyon ki
Was Dilip saab ever an insecure husband?
Never. He never said
yeh costume kyun pehna, yeh scene kyon ki. He liked everything that I wore. In fact, I must tell you this. And, it’s quite funny. Once I had dressed up for a function which was being held in honour of our marriage. I had worn a sari and jewelry. He saw me when I came out all ready and said, ‘Something is missing. You must also carry a beautiful basket with you so that you can keep some of your jewelry in that so that people would know you have so much jewelry’ (laughs). I got so upset then. I had worn it in a very tasteful way but even that was too much for Dilip saab. He likes a simple line of pearl and a simple eartop.
What was the mood at home when his or your film didn’t do well?
Dilip saab never felt bad if his film didn’t do well.
Sadma hota hoga unko but he’s not the one who will sit and cry. He always knew he had done his best.
You did quite a bold number and a bathtub scene in ‘Victoria No.203’…
Yes, but the scene was such that the heroine (myself) was trying to throw off the villain. Brij (director) had seen a popular Hollywood film then, which was on hoardings all over the city. The heroine in that had won a towel around herself and Brij wanted something like that. My mother designed a towel kind of a thing, which was a long
lungi with a slit and the neck was like a bolero. It was all done in a decent manner.
Who among today’s heroines you think is the best fashion icon?
Deepika Padukone. I love her laced attires. She carries it off beautifully.
The film you rate as Dilip saab’s as the best?
‘Ganga Jamuna’. I love that film.
How can you have people standing in for Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan? ‘Shakti’ should not be remade
The stage is being set for a remake of ‘Shakti’…
What! Is it really happening? Such classics shouldn’t be touch at all. How can you have people standing in for Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan who have so much of an aura and grace? I remember Kamal Amrohi wanted to remake my mother’s film ‘Pukar’ wherein she had played Nur Jahan. Sohrab Modi had decided to produce the remake. They had come home to ask Dilip saab and me to play Nur Jahan and Jehangir. Dilip saab explained to them clearly that
‘senior actors ka ek mukaam hota hai aur hamari rai yeh hai ki in an effort to remake ‘Pukaar’, aap is film ko haath na lagaye‘.
But this reminds me of a heading in a film glossy soon after ‘Shakti’ released- ‘Kaun Kisko Kha Gaya?’ There were too many comparisons. Who do you think was better in ‘Shakti’?
Dono apni jagah bahut achche the. Both were equally good. Amitabh considers Dilip saab as his guru. He admires him no end. Even Dilip saab likes him a lot; I remember Yusuf saab telling his unit to maintain pin-drop silence at the time that Amitabh’s death scene was being shot in ‘Shakti’.
Shah Rukh Khan idolises Dilip saab…
His hairstyle and Pathani looks do have a similarity. In fact, I just got a WhatsApp that Dilip saab had also sung a song with his hands stretched, which is SRK’s signature pose. I love Shah Rukh as a beta absolutely. Sometimes he drops by to spend time with Dilip saab. I touch his hair with affection.
Besides SRK, who all have kept in touch with Dilip saab?
We are grateful to God for each day
How is Dilip saab’s health now?
He’s not too well. He’s weak. At times, he walks into the hall and back to his room. His immunity is low. Pray for his welfare. We are grateful to God for each day.
It is out of love and not duress that I look after Dilip saab. I am not looking for praises to be called a devoted wife. Just to touch him and cuddle him is the world’s best thing that’s happening to me. I adore him and he is my breath itself.