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 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.