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Udaya Tara Nayar: Saira Banu dreamt of becoming Mrs Yousuf Khan at the age of 12

Updated on: 08 July,2021 09:00 AM IST  |  Mumbai
The Hitlist Team |

Journalist-author Udaya Tara Nayar remembers the everlasting romance of the eternal couple

Udaya Tara Nayar: Saira Banu dreamt of becoming Mrs Yousuf Khan at the age of 12

Dharmendra, Aamir Khan, Saira Banu and Amitabh Bachchan at the launch of Dilip Kumar’s biography — The Substance and the Shadow

Udaya Tara NayarI am often asked inquisitively at interactive get-togethers whether it is true that Saira Banu dreamed of marrying Dilip Kumar — the first real superstar of Indian cinema. [After all], he was the most successful star and eligible bachelor in the entertainment industry [in the ’60s]. As a friend, who has had the privilege of knowing [Banu] closely, I know that it is not true. I make it a point to correct the notion,  Saira Banu began to dream of becoming Mrs Yousuf Khan when she was 12-years-old, still schooling in London. Her only link with Indian cinema then were the posters in the window of an Indian shop that invited her gaze while she walked to school. Her mother, Naseem Banu, the first ever beauty queen of Indian cinema, had consciously kept her away from the film world and its magnetic draw in the hope that her daughter would choose an occupation that guaranteed security and social esteem.

One afternoon, as usual, when Banu stopped to gaze at the shop window, she saw a poster of Aan [1952]. She looked into the intense, expressive eyes of the hero in the film’s credits and stood riveted and mesmerised. She knew he was the star of the highly successful Indian movie that was drawing full houses in the city but nothing more. He was handsome and had a touch of class that no other man she had seen had. Nor did she know that in real life he was Yousuf Khan and a colleague of her mother. The one thing she knew for sure was that she wanted to marry him when she was old enough. It was love at first sight. From then on, during every namaaz when she prayed for the well-being of her family members, she added a secret dua to fulfil her wish to marry Kumar. Her prayer was answered in 1966 when she achieved stardom with her debut film, Junglee. After a whirlwind courtship lasting maybe two weeks, Kumar surprised his colleagues and fans by announcing his decision to marry Banu, who was 23 years younger and the only top leading lady he had consistently refused to work with. The marriage was solemnised on October 11.

Also Read: Dilip Kumar (1922-2021): The legend’s best cinematic tales

I was a new journalist then and had had the rare privilege of interviewing Kumar for Screen [film publication]. Not surprisingly, I was not an invitee to the grand event. [Post the wedding], the couple went off to Madras to combine holiday with work as Kumar was shooting for Ram Aur Shyam [1967] at Vijaya Vauhini studios. While Kumar continued filming in Madras, Banu returned to Mumbai to resume work on the film Jhuk Gaya Aasman. I was assigned to write a mini interview of Banu about her new status as Kumar’s wife. My seniors warned me that it would not be easy to meet her. She was haughty, aloof, and acted pricey when media persons tried to engage her in conversation. I met Banu in her make-up room at RK Studios without any difficulty and we became instant friends.

As a close friend, I began to witness the happy couple’s contented life and their joys that lit up Banu’s bungalow. Alongside, I could also sense the increasing maturity with which she began coping with the challenge of being the wife of an internationally admired actor idolised by millions.

After a couple of years, I noticed that Banu was no longer happy working shift after shift. Unlike Dilip saab, who worked in one film at a time, Banu, like all her contemporaries, was working in two or three movies simultaneously. It didn’t take much contemplation for her to tell her mother that it was time for her to bring the curtain down on her flourishing career. It was evident to all of those who understood Banu well that her decision had much to do with understanding of her husband’s needs. She had quickly realised with joy and pleasure that she was married to a man, who was larger than life as a screen personality, but in his real life, he was a child-like man who enjoyed the simple pleasures of life and above all, loved to spend time with the family. She happily chose to be just his wife — taking care of him, traveling with him to places he loved such as the wild life sanctuaries, keeping his tailor busy making the white full-sleeved shirts by the dozen, hunting for skilled cobblers to make the shoes he liked, organising lunch or tea  or dinner at short notice for guests.

For over five decades now, I have observed and learned from Banu what it takes for a wife to preserve the romance of the youthful years of a marriage and nourish the relationship in the later years with it. If it was a bracing game of badminton that they enjoyed in their youthful days, it was a quiet dinner at home with soft music playing in the background now. If it was a long drive in the night to Haji Ali’s juice centre to share a sitaphal ice-cream that Dilip saab loved then, now it was a slow and short drive around Bandra holding hands and watching the bustle and the grinning faces of passersby who stop to wave out to the all time icon of Indian cinema. The best thing about the couple’s enduring togetherness  was the contentment of being with each other. Whenever Banu said, ‘We have no regrets about not having kids’, I knew she was telling the truth. She was not just a dutiful wife — she was a mother, friend, an ardent fan, and the only one who prayed for his wellness unfailingly.

Also Read: Dilip Kumar’s last journey: Thespian given a funeral with full state honours

The writer is the author of Dilip Kumar’s biography — The Substance and the Shadow

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