By Parul Singh Last Updated:
Whether you talk about Ek Duuje Ke Liye or Mughal-e-Azam, the essence of eternal love has always been depicted with all its vibrant charm, tinged with the sadness of estrangement in Bollywood films. While Bollywood flicks may be bubbling with the emotions of eternal romance, very few real-life celebrity couples can be remembered for lifelong devotion towards their partners. And, one of the most vibrant and beautiful examples of this was the evergreen couple, Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu. They always stood by each other's side through the thick and thin of life. And, theirs was a love story that overcame an age difference of 22 years and a lot of controversies.
Born in Peshawar, British India, to Ayesha Begum and Lala Ghulam Sarwar Khan, Mohammed Yusuf Khan, professionally known as Dilip Kumar had changed his name decades ago, when actress Devika Rani insisted him to do so. He made his debut in the Hindi film industry with Jwar Bhata in 1944 and 1949, he created his niche in Bollywood with his breakthrough movie, Andaz, becoming the 'Tragedy King' over the years.
Born in 1944, Saira Banu became that 'chaand ka tukda', when she made her acting debut in 1961 opposite Shammi Kapoor in Junglee, whom everyone wanted apne saamne wali khidki mein. For Saira, Yeh Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hai proved to be true when she married the one, she truly loved, despite all the odds. Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu have worked together in movies like Duniya, Bairaag, Gopi and Sagina. Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu's movies were a hit on the silver screens and their jodi was loved by the audience on-screen as well as off-screen.
Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal
Dilip Kumar, in his biography, Dilip Kumar: The Substance and the Shadow, admitted that he had first set his eyes on the actress, Kamini Kaushal, who was also from Pakistan. For the upbringing of her elder sister's children after her demise, Kamini had married her brother-in-law in 1948. Reportedly, Dilip and Kamini's fling continued even after her marriage but eventually ended due to family and societal pressure.
In 1956, Dilip Kumar met Madhubala when they signed their film, Naya Daur, and a few weeks into the shoot, he had fallen for her. Dilip and Madhubala had decided to tie the knot once the shoot of the film was finished but her father was against their relationship. So much so that he had stopped Madhubala from going for outdoor shoots, which stalled the completion of her film, Naya Daur. While the producers had dragged Madhubala and her father to the court, not before her break-up with Dilip had the making of the film resumed. Dilip confessed his feelings to Madhubala but she couldn't go against her father, which led to an acrimonious break-up for the couple, leaving them shattered and heartbroken.
It was like a fairytale romance for the 'king of tragedy', Dilip Kumar and Bollywood sought-after actress, Saira Banu. As the former actress herself recalled and confessed, she was all in love with Dilip Kumar right from the age of 12. In a tabloid interview, Saira Banu said:
"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."
When the first premiere of Dilip Kumar's super hit tragic romance, Mughal-e-Azam had taken place at Mumbai's famous Maratha Mandir in 1960, the 16-year-old Saira Banu had gone for the show, hoping to get a glimpse of her favourite hero in person. But she was heartbroken as Dilip Kumar was unable to come to the premiere.
When, later on, Saira had finally gotten the first glimpse of the superstar in person, she remembers that very moment fondly and as clearly as ever. Remembering that first encounter, Saira had said in an interview:
"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."
Recalling the moment when he was taken aback by Saira Banu's beauty as she was no longer a young girl, with whom he had once refused to work, and had grown to womanhood, Dilip Kumar had written in his memoir, Dilip Kumar: The Substance and the Shadow:
"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."
Just like any famous celebrity, when the demure yet stunningly beautiful girl became an actress, her life too was surrounded by a number of controversies and link-ups. Her bewitching charm and grace won her many offers with leading actors of the time, and she even lost her heart to another well-known star of the '70s, the much-married Rajendra Kumar.
The liaison, which evoked much controversy, was brought to an end when Saira Banu's mother and former actress of the '60s, Naseem Banu intervened. Later, it was Naseem Banu only, who played the role of the Cupid for Dilip and Saira. She got them closer, thanks to which love blossomed between the two.
Later, when Dilip Kumar had proposed to Saira Banu, with the blessings of their respective families, she had quickly agreed. They got married in the year 1966 when the gorgeous Saira was only 22 and Dilip was 44. Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu's age difference of 22 years did raise a lot of second thoughts in her mind but after all, it was her dream come true to marry the love of her life. Dilip and Saira didn't let their age difference ever become an obstacle in their marriage. Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu's wedding date was fixed to be October 11 in 1966.
Many detractors of the couple felt that this relationship would soon fall apart. They believed that Saira Banu and Dilip Kumar's age gap would not make their marriage a success. But, with more than five decades of their marriage, the couple had proved their invincible and indomitable love for each other, despite going through troubled times.
After marriage, Saira Banu continued with her film career and climbed the steps of success quickly though becoming quite selective in her choice. But by 1976, she completely stopped taking on any roles on-screen and adapted herself to the role of being a wife and homemaker.
In more than 54 years of their wedding, Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu had set the relationship bar so high with the way they have stood strong despite their fair share of ups and downs, that no one in the B-town could match what this evergreen couple had.
Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu's decades-long married life came to a standstill in 1972 when she suffered a miscarriage in her eighth month. Due to high blood pressure, Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu's child was strangulated by the umbilical cord and the doctors couldn't save the baby. The doctors even said that Saira could not conceive again after her miscarriage. In an interview with the Hindustan Times, when Saira was asked if she has regrets about not having children with Dilip, she had retorted:
"Our marriage is the most important thing in my life. I don’t miss having a child because Saab is like a child at heart."
However, it is quite a well-known fact that celebrity marriages never really go without controversies and, Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu's love story was no exception. In the 1980s, Dilip got entangled in a controversial love affair with Asma, a Pakistani lady. Dilip had met Asma, who was a married woman and had children, at a cricket match in Hyderabad. While Asma was finding a way out of her marriage, Dilip was also seeking some means of extending his bloodline. It is rumoured that Dilip and Asma had secretly tied the knot in 1979 but it is not known if he had divorced Saira for the union or it was his second marriage.
Three years later, Dilip Kumar parted ways with Asma, came back to Saira and their reunion marked new beginnings for the couple. Amidst all the ebb and flow of life, the two have stood beside each other like a rock, considering one another to be the greatest gift of God. Even in his biography, Dilip Kumar: The Substance and the Shadow, Dilip had said that Asma's chapter in his life is that memory which he wants to forget and in fact, he and Saira have pushed it into oblivion as a 'grave mistake'.
In his career span of more than five decades, Dilip Kumar was also linked to his co-stars Waheeda Rehman and Vyjanthimala. And his alleged 'secret wedding' with Asma had come as an obstacle in his married life with Saira Banu. But deep in her heart, Saira knew her 'Saab' would come to his senses. And he did! In an interview with the Hindustan Times, Saira had said:
"For me, it was always Saab, no one else. I was his fan from the time I can remember. While still a teenager, I wanted to be his wife. I'm very headstrong and once I made up my mind, there was no stopping me. I knew many beautiful women wanted to marry Saab, but he chose me. It was my dream come true and that’s what my marriage has been a perfect dream."
For Saira Banu, there was never a day when she didn't thank Allah for giving her a Kohinoor in the form of her husband, Dilip Kumar. The madly-in-love Saira had this to say:
"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."
As for Dilip Kumar, even though he was a man of few words, he never left a chance to thank the love of his life, Saira, for standing by his side. The thespian’s Twitter profile was indeed an acknowledgement of his love and respect for his wife and their marriage.
In a throwback interview with The Times Of India, Saira Banu had expressed that it is out of love that she took care of Dilip Kumar and not because she was looking for praises. She was quoted as saying:
"It is out of love and not duress that I look after Dilip saab. I am not looking for praises to be called a devoted wife. Just to touch him and cuddle him is the world's best thing that's happening to me. I adore him and he is my breath itself."
Veteran actor, Dilip Kumar passed away on July 7, 2021, at the age of 98 and his family friend, Faisal Farooqui confirmed the news through a tweet on the actor's Twitter handle. The tweet can be read as:
"With a heavy heart and profound grief, I announce the passing away of our beloved Dilip Saab, a few minutes ago. We are from God and to Him we return. – Faisal Farooqui."
This famous Bollywood couple was certainly an example of one of the strongest marriages in B-town. Despite the age gap, controversies, and health issues, Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu were always by each other's side. But Dilip Kumar's death marked an end of an era, in cinema, for his fans and his wife, Saira Banu!