It is one of the most enduring marriages in Bollywood but Dilip Kumar reveals that though aware of her 'crush' on him, he annoyed Saira Banu by refusing to work with her in films as he thought she was too young to pair with him on screen. The actress, who fell in love with Kumar after watching his 1952 film 'Aan', finally married the man of her dreams in 1966 when he was in his early 40s while she was 22.
In his autobiography 'Dilip Kumar: The Substance And The Shadow', narrated by Udayatara Nayar, the screen icon, born in Peshawar (Pakistan) on 11 December 1922 and whose real name is Muhammed Yousuf Khan, reveals details about his courtship with Saira. "'Ram Aur Shyam' was very special for me in a personal way because I married Saira when the production of the film was nearing completion... Until then I was reluctant to even work with her for some reasons," Kumar, 91, says in the book.
Saira, on her part, had already found a teacher to learn Urdu and Persian to impress Kumar. She had also got to know about his likes and dislikes. The actor was "pleasantly amused and delighted" but never gave any importance to "this crush directed at me". As a family well-wisher, he also advised Saira's mother to not let her work in films. She made her debut with 1961 hit 'Junglee' opposite Shammi Kapoor.
Saira had already worked with Kumar's contemporaries Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand but working with the actor was still a distant dream.
In fact, director Nag Reddy wanted to cast Saira in 'Ram Aur Shyam' but Kumar stopped him from doing that. The role finally went to Mumtaz, who he thought was more suitable for the part, making Saira very angry. Kumar vividly recalls the day he fell in love with Saira during a party thrown to celebrate her birthday and the house warming of their new banglow.
"When I alighted from my car and entered the beautiful garden that leads to the house, I can still recall my eyes falling on Saira standing in the foyer of her new house looking breathtakingly beautiful in a brocade sari. I was taken aback, because she was no longer the young girl I consciously avoided working with because I thought she would look too young to be my heroine.
"She had indeed grown to full womanhood and was in reality more beautiful than I thought she was. I simply stepped forward and shook her hand and for us Time stood still.
"For once, she let go of her annoyance with me and looked straight into my eyes and it did not take more than an instant for me to realize that she was the one Destiny had been knowingly reserving as my real-life partner while I was refusing to pair with her on screen!," Kumar recalls. Kumar proposed to Saira while she was shooting for 'Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan'. Their date, however, was interrupted by a phone calls from a "lady friend with whom I had broken off a relationship months ago".
The actor finally decided to ask Saira for marriage. "'Saira, you are not the kind of girl I want to drive around with, or be seen around with... I would like to marry you... Will you be my wife?," he said. "'...and how many girls have you said this to?'," was Saira's prompt reply. She, however, said yes. By Kumar's own admission, their union had its ups and downs. The initial problems arose from the actor's huge family of brothers and sisters, who were not very happy to share their brother with Saira.
Kumar also briefly mentions his ill-fated marriage to Asma Rehman in 1982, 16-years after he tied the knot with Saira, calling it the only regret in his 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," he recalls.
The actor said Asma initially looked like umpteen other women admirers, who were introduced to him by his sisters.
"In this case, however, I was completely unaware of a connivance that was being mischievously perpetuated and a situation being cleverly created by vested interests to draw a commitment from me... I can never forget or forgive myself for the hurt I caused to Saira and the shattering of the unshakable faith she had in me."
The thespian says during the Asma episode, "it was also wrongly represented that Saira could not bear a child." "The truth is that Saira had borne a child, a boy (as we came to know later), in 1972. We lost the baby in the eighth month of pregnancy... We took the loss in our stride as the will of God."