His style was a statement. Employing pauses, and using his voice to unequalled dramatic effect, he was saluted as the first modern actor of India, ever since Jwar Bhata (1944). The thespian turns 86 today. <b1>
Exuding grace, Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu, talk of the days that were.. and are.. with Roshmila Bhattacharya.
Dilip saab, any special plans to bring in your 86th birthday?
Dilip Kumar: No plans but every year, on my birthday, I find myself surrounded by baskets and baskets of flowers sent by friends and old colleagues. When I walk into the foyer and the drawing room I see so many familiar and unfamiliar faces greeting me with warm smiles. I see the affection, the respect, and I silently thank God for his benevolence. This year of course, it will be a quiet birthday after what we’ve been through recently.
Saira Banu: Yes, who would want to wine and dine when the crying still hasn’t stopped in some homes? Just think of little Moshe and so many other kids who have lost their parents, suddenly and prematurely. It’s so inhuman!
Last year you mentioned that Sairaji flooded you with gifts on your birthday. Which has been the best gift you have received from her?
DK (Smiling): Saira herself. I couldn’t have asked for anything more special than her as my wife, companion and friend.
Sairaji, you once said that as a girl you’d pray every night to make you a superstar like your mother Naseem Banu.. and to make you Mrs Dilip Kumar. What do you ask for today?
SB: Today, I just ask God to let us be the way we are.. caring for each other, enjoying the simple pleasures of life together and doing our bit to make life happier for our near and dear ones.<b2>
Which has been your most memorable role to date?
DK: I have tried to pick one as a favourite ever so often.. but that’s impossible. I have always gone for scripts which stimulated me and were worthy of screen adaptations. Once I agreed to work in a film it took precedence over all other activities. I was with it 24 x 7.
Sairaji, which is your favourite screen moment featuring Dilip saab?
SB (Smiling):It’s a memory that still makes me chuckle. We were just married and were to work together in the Hindi adaptation of Pygmalion. It was a role after my own heart, playing Eliza Dolittle to saab’s Henry Higgins. But he wanted to do Gopi first. So we flew down to Chennai to shoot for my first movie with saab.
Naturally, I was a little nervous to face the camera with him. The scene was of him bringing Lalita Pawar and me to his house in a tonga and introducing me to his brother (Om Prakash) and bhabhi (Nirupa Roy).
Saab explained the scene to all of us. Then, it was time for a ‘take’. After three retakes, a break was announced so that the camera could be reloaded. Rajinder Krishen, the dialogue writer, called me over. Gently he told me, “Beta, you’ve done wonderful work in Junglee and Shagird. You have a lovely personality and screen presence. Why’re you aping Dilip Kumar?”
I blushed.. my ears turned a deep crimson. The fact is that it is impossible for any actor who works with saab to escape the temptation of aping him. I think it is an unconscious process of assimilation.. and I was no exception.
You were one of the loveliest faces of the Bombay movies..
SB (Interrupting): My mother, Naseem Banu, was the loveliest face on the Indian screen. (Wistfully) I wish I was half as lovely as she was.
Any possibility of you returning to films?
SB:Well, I did produce a Bhojpuri film, Ab To Banva Sajanva Hamra, some time ago with Ravi Kissen and Nagma. The economics had changed in the years since I quit the industry. I needed some hands-on experience before I ventured to make a film for the all-India market.
You plan to produce a Hindi film?
SB:Yes, I have been thinking along those lines. My team is exploring subjects and proposals.
What about television?
SB: I have been producing software regularly since my interview-based talk shows, Zara Dekho to Inka Kamaal and Is Duniya Kay Sitaaray, aired in the late ’90s. I produced a Hindi daily for Sahara One and an Urdu serial for ETV. Right now, Stree Teri Kahani, is bringing in revenue and TRPs for Doordarshan in the afternoon slot.
This despite the meagre budget.. and competition from more lavishly produced shows on the satellite channels. I chose DD for its reach. Also, because there’s no creative interference.
Any recent film which made an impression?
SB: Well, I don’t get to watch too many films now. But a special screening of Jodhaa Akbar was thoughtfully arranged for us by Ashutosh (Gowarikar). The movie was a delight. I discovered what a versatile actor Hrithik (Roshan) was.
Dilip saab, did Hrithik Roshan bring back memories of Prithviraj Kapoor as Akbar in Mughal-e-Azam?
DK: Well, the film did remind me of the pains taken to film Mughal-e-Azam. Only directors like K Asif and Ashutosh who have the patience, confidence and artistry to reconstruct events and emotional conflicts with sensitivity can bring such historicals to life. Hrithik and Aishwarya (Rai) played their roles with remarkable maturity and restraint.
Mukta Arts has just completed 30 years. What do you recall from your association with Subhash Ghai through the making of Vidhaata, Karma and Saudagar?
DK: I have enjoyed working with Subhash who’s always been very affectionate and courteous. He has kept my temperament and predilections in mind while planning a film with me.
And once we shook hands and agreed to work together, he allowed me ample creative freedom to bring the character and situations to life, as I felt best. There was always a healthy exchange of thoughts between us. That I think is the reason why our collaborations were very successful.
You were offered Lawrence of Arabia before the role went to Omar Sharif. In retrospect, do you regret turning down David Lean?
DK: I have no regrets about turning down a film. When one has the freedom to choose, one should choose what is best for him. I met David Lean a few times, informally, with my dear friend Hiten Chowdhury. We enjoyed our conversations and developed a healthy mutual respect for the work we had both done in cinema.
But at that juncture I was happy and content with the success I was enjoying here and not inclined to contemplate working in an alien environment and ethos. David understood me perfectly. We continued to be in touch for a long time.
Dilip Kumar's evergreen songs::