August 3, 2021
Sometime in December 2011, Bollywood legend Dilip Kumar, whom Satyajit Ray had famously described as “the ultimate method actor,” shared a picture of Saira Banu on Twitter. In the candid photo, Banu looks at him with a smile on her face. “Even a moment without her by my side is painful,” Kumar tweeted. He called his wife “the love of his life.” In 2018, Banu referred to her husband as “my Kohinoor.” The couple were visibly in love. They had been for 55 years. Pictures of Banu affectionately kissing the actor made the rounds on social media almost every year. But their time together was cut short when Kumar passed away after a long battle with prostate cancer on July 7.
Born Mohammed Yusuf Khan, Kumar (the actor changed his name in 1944) married Saira Banu in 1966 — at the peak of both their Bollywood stardom. Banu was 22. He was 44. The 22-year age gap barely bothered Banu or her mother, actor Naseem Banu, who reportedly acted as a matchmaker for the couple. Many thought that their marriage would be short-lived, crumbling under the pressures of their respective careers. But the couple somehow always found their way back to each other. Toward the end of his life, an ill Kumar wholly depended on Banu. And she devoted her life to taking care of him. “I had dreamt of only two things in life: to become famous like my mother and to marry Dilip Sahab. Allah granted me both, what more could I ask for?” Banu had once said.
Fifty years on, Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu’s love story is considered to be one of the most enduring Bollywood romances. But even for the match made in heaven, their life together was anything but easy. Their marriage was racked with jealousy, loneliness, controversy, and loss. Through it all, Banu stood by Kumar, loving him unconditionally. But, over the years, she also paid the price for it.