Few actresses have had the blessing of turning into an overnight sensation with their very first film and Saira Banu was one of them. When this slim, graceful and breathtakingly beautiful 17-year old ‘Yahooed’ down the snowy slopes with Shammi Kapoor in Junglee in 1961, a new era of romance was ushered in the Hindi film industry and there was no looking back for her after that…
This blog-post takes a look at her career through some of her evergreen songs:
Born on 23rd August, 1944, Saira Banu went on to become one of the most beautiful and glamorous actresses of our film industry and was an important part of the ‘Golden Era’ of our industry when super-hit music formed an essential component of our films. With the result she had the good fortune of having some outstanding songs picturized on her giving her films excellent recall value.
She was a trendsetter as far as fashion was concerned. Her exquisite saris and classy jewellery pieces both designed by her mother Naseem Bano were a rage. She looked stunning in both Indian as well as western wear making everything she wore look elegant and classy.
Aayee Milan Ki Bela
Her mother Naseem Bano had herself been a big star of the industry in the 30’s and 40’s and was renowned for her stunning looks. After the birth of her two children Saira Banu and Sultan Ahmed she and her husband parted ways and both Saira and Sultan were sent to Delhi initially and London later on for their education as she wanted them to grow up far away from the world of films.
After Shammi Kapoor in Junglee, she formed a hit pair with many heroes especially Rajendra Kumar, Joy Mukherjee, Biswajeet and later Dharmendra and had several hits with them.
Aayee Milan ki Bela
Aadmi Aur Insaan
Aao Pyar Karen
She was the heroine of the all-time favourite comedy Padosan which had a long line of superb comic-actors like Mehmood, Kishore Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Mukri, Keshto Mukherjee, etc. Every song of the film was superb. Here I am including a song which is not played very often but is actually a masterpiece in every sense.
She was an important part of Manoj Kumar’s super-hit classic Purab aur Pashchim where she brought to life the role of an Indian girl born and brought up in London and who had lost touch with her Indian roots, so beautifully that it is impossible to imagine that any other actress could have done justice to this role. She looked gorgeous in the blonde wig also.
Though she fell ill during the shooting and had to undergo treatment followed by several weeks of bed-rest, Manoj Kumar was willing to wait patiently for her to recover for he had written the role with only Saira Banu in mind and stated that if she was not able to play the role, then he would have to shelve the project.
Purab aur Pashchim
She was only 8 years old in 1952 when she saw Mehboob Khan’s colourful extravaganza ‘Aan’ while studying in London. She felt an instant attraction to the hero of the film Dilip Kumar and kept writing letters to her mother to get as much information about him as possible…
After completing her education she returned to India and soon engaged a tutor to learn to speak chaste Urdu only because Dilip Kumar spoke excellent Urdu. Her mother took her with her to the parties held at Mehboob Studios and soon many producers showed interest to cast her as their heroine. She was considered initially for Hum Hindustani as the second heroine but destiny had other plans for her and Junglee came her way.
Right from childhood she had nurtured only two dreams-that of becoming a film star like her mother and to marry the man of her dreams-Dilip Kumar and she accomplished both these feats due to her perseverance and faith in her abilities. Though she ultimately married him on 11th October,1966, she got to act with him only in 1970 in Gopi.
She made no bones about her love, admiration and respect for Dilip Kumar and kept begging her producers to cast them together. Ironically it was Dilip Saab who kept refusing on some pretext or the other. Initially she had even been considered for Ram aur Shyam but was rejected as Dilip Kumar felt that she was too young to act opposite him. He then gave mahurat shots for a few of her films like Saaz aur Awaaz. She looked lovely in the classical dances in the film…
She also got the opportunity to act opposite the other two giants of the B&W era -Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor before getting to act with Dilip Kumar…
She also did some unique numbers which were bold for that time. For instance in Padosan and Jhuk Gaya Aasman she had songs picturized in a bath tub. To her credit never before or never after has any heroine looked so stunningly beautiful in such a song-sequence.
Jhuk Gaya Aasman
In Victoria No. 203, she sings a full song with the villain Ranjeet just draped in a towel
In both the songs, there was not an iota of vulgarity which speaks volumes about her demeanor and credit also goes to her directors for presenting her in a dignified manner.
In the same film she dresses up as a boy to find out some secret about her father and looks super smart in that get-up also…
Her song in Padosan on a cycle with all her friends also cycling remains an iconic song till date. Her hairstyle with the ribbon tied around her hair remains popular even today…
Incidentally she had been the first choice for both Guide and Jewel Thief and Vijay Anand had been very keen on casting her. But around the same time she had signed a film Habba Khatoon to be directed by Mehboob Khan with the possibility of Dilip Kumar being signed as the hero. Her dates clashed and she opted out of Guide in favour of getting an opportunity to work with Dilip Kumar who did give the clapper board for this also.
In Jewel Thief Vijay Anand rewrote the script to increase her role but somehow the film never materialized. As luck would have it Habba Khatoon was shelved. But Saira has no regrets. In fact she is honest enough to confess that she could have never done justice to the role of ‘Rosie’ in Guide and felt glad that the role went to the right person who made it an immortal character.
She had actually acquired the story of Sharmilee from writer Gulshan Nanda and given it to director Subodh Mukherjee and was keen to do the double role but when she fell very ill the producer went ahead and signed Raakhee for the role. She attended the premiere of Mughl-e-Azam all decked up in her mother’s heavy sari and high heels just to impress Dilip Kumar but unfortunately for her, Dilip Kumar never attended the premiere of this historic film as there was some unpleasantness between him and director K Asif over Asif’s marriage to Dilip Kumar’s sister.
Here is a song from the film Aman (1967) in which she plays a Japanese woman who knows Hindi because she has been educated in India
Towards the end of her career, she ended up acting with Shammi Kapoor, the hero of her first film as her father in Zameer where she was cast opposite Amitabh Bachchan…
At 72, age may have caught up with her but her radiant spirit and charm still shine through and her undying love, admiration and respect for her Dilip Saab still continues which probably explains that special glow one can see on her face even today…
Here is a birthday wish all her fans have always wished for her and will continue to do so for their favourite actress: