Saira Banu – Interview
“Like Guddi, I was infatuated with a film star,” was Saira Banu’s cryptic comment on her life with Dilip. “I had pasted my room with pictures of Dilip Sahab and was crazy over him.” Saira was speaking at her Pali Hill residence soon after her arrival from Mahabaleshwar. Although she has recovered from the shock (of the loss of her baby), she still looked a bit pale. It was agreed at the outset that I should not broach the subject of her recent bereavement. So instead we discussed other topics ranging from Dilip, Dharmendra to hot pants.
Contrary to the general impression in film circles, I find that the two are hitting it off very well. Dilip is a loving husband, says Saira. it would be more appropriate to say that he is a doting father.
Dilip treats her like a darling child. For while we were talking, he came in, stroked his wife’s head, giving her a languishing look. And when he learnt that she had still not had her lunch (it was nearing two), he gave me a meaningful look as if to say: “Stop inflicting yourself on poor Saira. Clear out.”
I asked her which aspect of Dilip impressed her most. She paused: “I think it is his discipline. Dilip Sahab is not only a perfectionist but also a disciplinarian.”
“Playing opposite him is a real challenge. Not only will he reenact a scene a hundred times, if necessary, but he expects his heroine also to do the same in order to achieve perfection. As for dialogue, I have seen him sit up till four or five in the morning preparing it.
TIFF WITH DILIP
“One day I was late for the shooting of `Gopi’. I apologized to Dilip Sahab, but he wouldn’t look up and kept on writing. Then I went and apologised to the camera-man. Back I came to Dilip Sahab and told him ‘I am sorry for being late’. He just gave me a cold stare and called off the shooting.
“I wept that day and kicked up a row. I said ‘you insulted me before others. Even when I apologized, you wouldn’t look up.’ Dilip Sahab then said, ‘I don’t care whether other heroines come in time or not. But I don’t want my wife to be late and become the subject of comment.’ ”
As the conversation proceeds, a small boy, perhaps the gate-keeper’s son, bursts in upon the scene. “Sairaji, ek faqir aya hai,” (“a beggar has come”) he announces. She looks at him, smiles and asks a servant to do the needful.
“How do you react,” I ask her, “if you find Dilip and his leading lady in a passionate scene?”
“I wouldn’t like it. But what can I do? It’s part of the profession. He may have a hundred heroines, but he has only one wife.”
However, Saira must also be getting Dilip’s hackles up. Saira is conscious of her good figure which she has tried to cash in on by wearing mini-skirt as in “Purab aur Pacchim”.
And in “Victoria No. 203,” produced and directed by Brij, she has again displayed her curves. Saira is the daughter of a man who has been charged with murder. So that sets her off on the mission of tracing the murderers, who are diamond thieves. Disguised as a victoria driver, she pursues them and towards the end of the reel succeeds in nabbing the culprits. And a tense scene in which she is chased around in a bath towel by the villain, stretches for over ten minutes. Was it necessary?
Saira thinks so. She justifies sex if it is relevant to the theme of the picture. Answering a question as to what she would wear next after the mini sari in “Shagird” and mini skirt in “Purab aur Pacchim”, she said: “Next is whatever my role demands. I have no objection to mini-skirts and hot pants provided they are really called for and in keeping with whatever role I have undertaken to play.”
In fact, she loves mini dresses, particularly hot pants. “If I had my way, I would live in them right round the clock.”
Has she been able to? “No,” she replies. “My husband wants me to dress simply. He’s against gorgeous dresses. And I think he’s right. A film star’s home life must be different, from that on the screen.” .
Saira herself portrayed that simplicity. She was clad in a plain peach gharara and a matching shirt. There was no makeup whatsoever.
Though Saira has proclaimed her devotion to the screen, she has yet to prove her mettle as an outstanding actress. Barring “Purab aur Pacchim” and a few other films, her performance has not come up to one’s expectation. “When will you act in a sensible film? someone asked her.
“I will act in a sensible film when there is a sensible audience to view such a film. Is there anything sensible in our country that we should single out films and make them the target of criticism.”
“Are you prepared to sacrifice. your career for the sake of your husband?” I asked.
“Sure. My career is not as important to me as my husband. Now I have fourteen assignments on hand. Once they are completed, I’ll not accept more than three a year. If, however, a choice has to be made, I will do anything for his sake.”
She then goes through a flashback. “I was so crazy over Dilip Sahab that I used to make preparations sometimes six days in advance before I would meet him. I remember going for the premiere of `Ganga Jamna’. I had a sari specially made for the occasion. Finally we (she and Naseem Banu) went there, but only to find Dilip Sahab missing. Similarly, for the premiere of ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ I had made preparations three days in advance, I wanted to look my very best before him.”
“Is there any incident involving you and your husband which comes uppermost in your mind?” “Plenty. But the one which is still green in my memory took place at Panhala, near Kolhapur, where we had gone for the shooting of ‘Ram aur Shyam’. We were staying in an old house where there was not even lighting.
“I was fast asleep in my room when I felt somebody shaking me. I slept on. Again I felt the nudge. There was a soft whisper of ‘Saira Saira’ into my ears. When my eyes opened. I saw the silhouette of Dilip Sahab. He said, `Saira, get up. I am in trouble.’ I said ‘what’s the matter?’ And he explained. ‘I can’t go to the bathroom. There’s a woman standing there. She’s staring at me. Now how could I sleep after hearing this? My heart was beating faster. I thought the house was haunted’. She smiles. “You know, the Khans like to play practical jokes.”
Replying to another question linking her with Dharmendra, she said,it was the business of the press to indulge in speculation. “On the set we get bored, sowe have to talk something. That is enough for journalists to link me with somebody, The so- called affair with Dharmendra is no different. Personally, I found him a nice person to talk to and simple in behavior.”
“How is it that Indian film actors and actresses do not resort to divorces as often as their western counterparts do?”
“I think this has something to do with the difference in outlook of the people in India and the west. Here the Indian woman glorifies her husband to the level of God. She has that spirit of self-sacrifice which her counterpart in the west lacks. Small differences hardly matter to us. In the west they lead to divorce.
“The French actress Catherine lives with Marcello Mastroianni without getting married. She had already divorced her first husband. Catherine just believes in free love. Now such being the outlook on life, how do you expect marital harmony. It takes two to understand that marriage is an elastic relationship of give and take.”(As told to Star & Style Magazine in 1972).