By Jyothi Venkatesh
Today Saira Banu celebrates her 78th birthday. We wish her a happy birthday and to mark her 78th birthday, we reproduce this rare and candid interview with SAIRA BANU by JYOTHI VENKATESH which appeared exactly 15 years ago.
At the outset, talking about her husband Dilip Kumar, Saira said, “After the trial show of my film Shagird was over, he told me that it would be criminal on his part to hold me back from acting in films. I will die if I do not stick to Yusuf Saab. He has been my source of strength. I have been crazy about him ever since I was just a 12 year old little girl. Right from the day we got married, Yusufsaab has been my greatest support system. I still remember the day I had organized a trial of my film Shagird for him after our marriage.
At that point of time, I was planning to quit acting since I wanted to be a housewife and even though I had signed Padosan and Purab Aur Paschim, I didn’t want to start work on those films. Saab saw the trail of Shagird with pin drop silence. I was keen on knowing how he would react to my performance, especially since he had told me that he had not seen even a single film in which I had acted till then. After the trial was over, he told me that it would be criminal on his part to hold me back from acting in films.
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“I inched my way through and got myself a small role in Sagina. Yes. After marriage, though another actress in addition to Aparna Sen had been signed to play the leading lady in Sagina, I inched myself through and got myself cast opposite Saheb though it was a very small role. I wanted to spend all my time with him wherever he was instead of sitting at home twiddling my thumbs and waiting for him to come back every day”.
Saira iterates that she simply loved Saheb in his films like Ganga Jumna, Devdas, Moghul E Azam, Sagina and Madhumati. “He gave great award winning performances in those days when awards were given on merit and actors did not necessarily have to spend money to get awards like it happens today. Though as any other normal husband and wife, we too have our share of fights even now almost 41 years after our marriage, as and when I sit down and watch any DVD of any of the films in which he had acted, I do not fight with him for at least the next eight days. In fact, Saheb often jokes that I should keep myself busy by watching his films every week so that I will never fight with him.”
Saira says that Saheb and she were very happy with their very first film in Bhojpuri titled Ab Ta Banja Sajanwa Hamaar with Arshad Khan, the son of the late actor Yunus Parvez as the director. “Ravi Kishen, Nagma and Mona Thiba star in our film, which is doing good business in the North and has also been released in Mumbai. I do not understand why the media asks me about my decision to produce a film in Bhojpuri instead of Hindi. Why shouldn’t I make a film in Bhojpuri? Bhojpuri films project our cultural heritage, family ties and emotions even today. What is wrong with making a film in Bhojpuri? I consider myself a devoted housewife and making films is my hobby. I want to make films not only in Hindi but also Marathi, Gujarati and other regional languages. I am keen on producing a comedy film now after Ab To Banja Sajanwa Hamaar.
“Right now, I am busy producing a TV serial called Stree, which is on air on Doordarshan. It deals with the subject of empowerment of women, a subject very close and dear to me. Journalist Udaya Tara Nair is helping me come up with a biography on Saheb too. I’d say that being with him has taught me a lot. I was far too immature for my age before I married him. In contrast today’s young kids on the block in Bollywood are very smart and intelligent thanks to the total ambience these days and the exposure they get through television”.
Recently a big banner, Saira says, had offered to cast her in a film in a pivotal central role but she declined it politely because “Yusufsaab and I need each other” now at this stage of our lives. “We have to fend for each other now. Earlier I had my mother, my grandmother and my brother staying with us. Now I have a different set of priorities. I may be abnormal but the fact is that I do not miss acting at all. I cannot deny the truth that my life has been a bed of roses thanks to my gorgeous husband. Today I do not want to seek glorification by facing the camera and acting all over again. Instead I want to have memories of my husband and me together. I would rather say that serving him a cup of tea in the morning will be more rewarding and enjoyable than appreciation for my performance.”
“We do not see many films these days. I think that the last film we saw was Black. It was a beautiful film. Saheb loved it so much that he sent a note to Amitabh Bachchan after Rani Mukherjee arranged a screening of the film. Though the film depressed me so much that I came out of the auditorium not once or twice but thrice, the film literally touched me. He likes both Rani as well as Kareena. In fact, recently when I told Kareena that she is a favourite of sahib, she was on seventh heaven.
Saira signs off. “I am not a diplomat. I really like Shah Rukh Khan. In fact, though he is like a son to us, I still wonder why he should act in remakes of epic cult films like Devdas and Don. I made it a point not to see Devdas. I cannot tell a lie and say it was nice. It is a bad trend. I subscribe to the view that you can neither replace the old stars nor touch the classics. I asked Sanjay Leela Bhansali why he went in for a remake of Devdas. Is there a dearth of talent in our country that we cannot make beautiful films like Black or Life Is Beautiful? I asked him point blank but he just smiled at me because had no answer at all.”