As Dilip Kumar takes a final bow from the stage called life, one can’t help but think of his wife, veteran actress Saira Banu. One of the most celebrated couples of Bollywood, Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu were married for 54 years and Banu remained Kumar’s devoted companion till his last day. Always by his side, through thick and thin, Banu served as an anchor to the thespian- especially in the last 10 years when his health started deteriorating. A love story that stood the test of time, Banu’s devotion, care and love for her husband over the years will remain inspirational for generations to come. Much like their love story- which many would argue- seems straight out of a Bollywood movie itself.
Dilip Kumar was 22 years senior to Saira Banu. The actress in several interviews admitted that she was attracted to Kumar from an young age. “I was not just another girl smitten by Dilip Kumar. For me, it was no castle in the air because I had given my dream the strong foundation of faith- faith in myself and faith in God,” the actress had said in an interview. She had watched Dilip Kumar’s ‘Aan’ and had even dreamt of becoming ‘Mrs Dilip Kumar’ one day.
Saira Banu’s mother Naseem Banu was an actress herself and it was through her that the two had met for the first time. Recalling her first meeting with her future husband, Saira Banu said, “When he smiled at me and remarked that I was a pretty girl, I could feel my whole being taking wing and flying rapturously. I knew somewhere deep within me that I was going to be his wife.”
Banu was only 16 when she made her debut in films. She appeared as the female lead in ‘Junglee’ opposite Shammi Kapoor in 1961. It is believed that her mother Naseem Banu played cupid for Saira Banu and Dilip Kumar and the two tied the knot on October 11, 1966. Banu was 22 and Kumar 44 years old at the time of marriage.
The marriage, though, had its share of ups and downs. In his memoir, ‘Dilip Kumar: The Substance and the Shadow’, Kumar mentioned that Banu became pregnant in 1972 but developed high blood pressure in her eighth month of pregnancy, and the doctors could not save the baby, which had been strangulated by the umbilical cord. The couple decided to not have children after that incident.
Then in 1981, the actor married Asma Rehman which lasted only two years. Later, Dilip Kumar admitted that it was a decision that he would regret his entire life. “Well, the one episode in my life that I would like to forget and which we, Saira, and I, have pushed into eternal oblivion is a grave mistake I made under pressure of getting involved with a lady named Asma Rehman whom I had met at a cricket match in Hyderabad”.
Banu quit her acting career in 1976 to play the perfect wife to her ‘Kohinoor’, the love of her life. In 2014, Saira had said, “I am still head over heels in love with my Kohinoor, Yousuf Sahab, the way I was when I first felt attracted to him as a 12 year-old. Ours has been as good and enduring a marriage as so many marriages that have survived the ups and downs for four decades. No marriage is perfect. How can it be, when as human beings we are not perfect? It is mutual love, respect and adoration that keep a marriage ticking.”