Saira Banu remembers Dilip Kumar on anniversary: ‘He was like a book you could never stop reading’; EXCLUSIVE

On their 57th anniversary, Saira Banu shares her fondest memories about Dilip Kumar, how she spends her time after his unfortunate demise, the battles she fought, and if she plans to return to acting

Avinash Lohana
Written by Avinash Lohana , Journalist
Updated on Mar 27, 2024 | 12:08 PM IST | 173.8K
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Saira Banu remembers Dilip Kumar on anniversary: ‘He was like a book you could never stop reading’; EXCLUSIVE

The world lost its most brightest star Dilip Kumar on July 7, 2021, and ever since then his legendary actress-wife Saira Banu Khan has mostly stayed away from the public eye. Before Dilip Saab’s unfortunate demise, I would be in regular touch with Saira ji to check on Saab’s health, but post that Saira ji admits to be in a self imposed hibernation, mostly because of the pain in her ankle. “I am more or less a recluse, and very happy in my own home. I don’t step out at all, except for the therapy now. I hope to put my ankle right because I can’t even wear a shoe at this point. But nothing to worry about, these things are ups and downs in life. Sab theek ho jayega,” says the thespian. 

In July this year, she opened an Instagram account dedicated to untold trivia about Dilip Kumar. 

Today, October 11, marks this magical couple’s 57th anniversary, and on this special day Saira ji goes down the memory lane as she shares her fondest memories with Dilip Saab.

In your Instagram post recently, you said that when you and Dilip Kumar Saab got married, nobody had ever imagined this possibility of you two coming together. What had happened back then? 

See I had started work with Junglee in 1961, and Dilip Saab had not agreed to work with me in many of the movies which were offered to me after that. There was a reason for that. He had been a family friend, and my mother (Naseem Banu) had worked in Dilip Saab’s brother’s film too. After that of course she gave up working because she took us to London and looked after us, my brother and myself. We did our entire schooling over there. 

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So we never worked together, and the media too didn’t have us in mind at all. He was working with great, illustrious people like Meena Kumari and Vyjayanthimala. This team of Dilip Kumar Saab and Vyjayanthimala had clicked with the audience, and I think they had worked together in seven to eight films. There was Waheeda Rehman ji too. 

He refused to do any movies with me, as he was like, ‘I have seen her growing up as a child’. But I was dying to work with him because he was my all time favourite. Everyone knows that ever since I was 12, I had a crush on him. I wouldn’t even call it a crush, I would call it an obsession for him. I remember I had seen him in London in a film called Aan, it was directed by Mehboob Khan. The film had a special screening in London, and my mother was a Chief Guest because she was a famous film star. They used to call her Pari Chehra and Beauty Queen. So because of that, my brother and I got to see Aan, and that was the first time I saw Dilip Saab on screen. Ever since then there was no looking back (laughs). 

Then, for our holidays our mother would bring us back to Mumbai, and on one such vacation in the city I got to see Dilip Saab, and got to meet him for the very first time. Just like I had seen him in Aan, he had the same charisma and that enthralling personality, but was very simply dressed. He used to love his white long sleeved cotton shirts, white trousers, and white chappals. 

You know it was then that I had made up my mind, and had told my mother too, that when I grow up this is the man that I want to marry, because he has a different aura and a different climate about him. Dilip Saab stood out among many men…

Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu

You made him your world, and have been by his side through thick and thin. Now, after he is gone, how are you spending your time? 

I am spending my time with a lot of meditation. Since the last 12 to 13 years, we had created an ambience of an ICU at home on the top floor of our house. He had a great team of doctors, nurses, and three of his personal attendants who grew up in our house and absolutely adored him. On top of everything, I was the supervisor because I never moved away an inch. I would oversee everything, toh ek aadat padh gayi to watch him throughout the night because his oxygen and pressure needed to be checked in the night too. 

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It was a very delicate situation, and so keeping a watch in the night and day - it became a habit with me over the years. Now I can’t disconnect all of a sudden, in fact I am still usually up till three or four in the morning. I remember, even in the hospital ICU, the doctors would be kind enough to let me put up a gadda (floor bed), and let me sleep by his bedside. So there was never a question of leaving him alone. Yeh aadat itni jaldi nahi jayegi… (this habit won’t go away so soon). 

But you have to look after yourself now…

Wahi nahi ho pa raha hai, apna nahi dekh pa rahi abhi (I am unable to look after myself). There have been so many hassles. Firstly, because of the illness throughout so many years we could not attend to our measures of battling with the property matters. And you know what happens is that when someone is ill, the hyenas around you get even more active, and people just wait to stab you in the back. So we are dealing through all this. 

My elder brother very chivalrously looked after all these matters. But unfortunately with all the pressure, he got a heart attack and I lost him. Now his son has taken over to look after things and manage them. Dilip Saab had a wish that the bungalow should be developed. We had a lot of problems with these people who had an eye on the property, and we had a tough time dealing with it, but thank God now the development is in full swing. In fact, we are going to convert his cabin in the house to a small museum dedicated to him in his honour. 

So more or less, I have been busy with these things, but now I have to start looking after myself a little bit because my doctors are ablaze with this, and insist that I pay attention to myself too. But I am doing good, and once my knee and ankle problem is better, I should also be out a little bit as well! 

Coming back to your Instagram post, you had mentioned that a week after visiting your house for your birthday, Dilip Saab sought your hand in marriage from your grandmother Shamshad Abdul Waheed Khan ji. How did you react after that? 

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I was absolutely over the moon, and whichever new films I had signed, my mother said, ‘Bilkul vapas karo, this is the most important thing.’ She said you will get movies later, but you won’t get Dilip Kumar, which is absolutely the truth na… so I said I am not waiting. Immediately we had a quiet engagement, exchanging rings on October 2nd. Soon after we flew off for work to Calcutta, and Dilip Saab had to work on a script with HS Rawail. But what happened is when we landed in Calcutta, it was a massive gathering of fans, which I had never seen in my life earlier.

At that time security also wasn’t very tight, so people managed to get in the airport, into our aircraft, and gathered outside our hotel too. In fact, once out of their love and affection the crowd even lifted up our car in appreciation for us. We somehow managed to get into the hotel, but the very next day we had an outdoor shoot and it was impossible to film because of the crowd. So we had no option but to pack up and come back to Mumbai. 

Did you know the actual wedding date had been set for November, but looking at the circumstances Dilip Saab called my brother and his brother to suggest that we go ahead with a small wedding ceremony in the next 2 to 3 days at our home. So there was no time to make any regal dresses, we got our outfits stitched from our inhouse tailors and within three days we got married. 

Even at the wedding, the gathered fans were so uncontrollable. They dived into the house throwing the security helter skelter. Dilip Saab was made to sit on a horse by his sisters, and there was a sea of people alongside Shashi Kapoor, Raj Kapoor, Prithviraj Kapoor ji, and Dilip Saab on the horse. It took us one and half hours to reach our own garden from the house. In fact, many admirers post the marriage picked up everything which was there as a souvenir from our wedding. Someone had a spoon, someone had a plate and what not… (laughs). 

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I can imagine this situation. We would also love to see you back on the big screen. Do you have any plans to return to acting? 

Never. I have been asked repeatedly to attend these reality shows, and I even refused a few award shows recently. One was offered to me in America, one in Pune and the other one in Delhi, but I said no because of my angle and I have not even come out of the house yet… 

But you started an Instagram account earlier this year for Dilip Kumar Saab… 

Yes, I have concentrated on being able to tell all of you all his anecdotes which are unknown, and will even share photographs which none of you have seen until now. I have a very able team who has neatly filed and stacked all his memories, which I’ll be gradually sharing with all his fans. There are many of his writings too, which I am going to print, inshallah. Dilip Saab had a hold on so many languages, and was really something… an immense personality and a great human being. So versatile with his knowledge of the world. He was like a book that you could never stop reading, because everyday you discovered a new page to him.

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