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'This serial is my tribute to my mother'

By Subhash K Jha
May 26, 2003 21:36 IST
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Saira Banu ruled the 1960s with her impishness in films like Junglee (co-starring Shammi Kapoor), Shagird (Joy Mukherjee) and Padosan (Sunil Dutt, Mehmood, Kishore Kumar). Saira Banu

Today, the actress, after a long break away from the limelight, has turned producer with her serial, Kisse Apna Kahen, on the Sahara channel.

The soft-spoken queen of yesteryears talks to Subhash K Jha about her life and career.

It is good to see you back in the limelight.

Thanks, though I don't seek the limelight in producing a serial. I launched a couple of other serials and then dropped them. There is a story to how I got around to making Kisse Apna Kahen. My mother [the late Naseem Banu] wasn't a television watcher until she grew unwell. She loved Zee TV's Amaanat. She advised me to watch it. I did. I contacted the people behind Amaanat [director Sanjeev Bhattacharya]. That is how I found my writer [Armaan Shahabi] to write Kisse Apna Kahen. This serial is my tribute to my mother.

Did you ever think of directing Kisse Apna Kahen yourself?

I am content being the producer. Direction is a responsibility I am not willing to bear at this stage of my life. As a producer, I have the luxury of coming and going according to my convenience. As a director I cannot do that. I gave up my acting career at its peak for the same reason.

Many people warned me that I was retiring too early. I am grateful to God for helping me make the right decision at the right time. It was important for me to be near my grandmother [Shamshad Begum Waheed Khan], mother, and husband [Dilip Kumar], not because they needed me, but because I needed them. Those golden moments that I shared with them were worth all the career sacrifices I made.

It was never my ambition to watch myself in magnified close-ups on screen. Even now some of my colleagues lead such self-focused lives.

Do you miss being a star?

I have been singularly blessed to be a granddaughter to one of the most accomplished classical vocalists of her time, daughter to one of the most ravishingly beautiful actresses ever, and wife to the greatest actor. What more can I desire?

I am not being a martyr when I say I don't regret putting my career on the backburner. I am grateful for every day that I get with the people I love. Every touch and hug that I got from my grandmom and mom was therapeutic. Of course I go through my share of depression, specially now when my grandmother and mother are gone. Now it is just Yusufsaab, my brother [Sultan] and me. It is a small but happy family. I am at my best within my family fold. Outside, I am withdrawn, aloof and reserved.

I constantly needed my cuddles and hugs from my loved ones. How could I sacrifice that to work under the harsh lights?

Would you say you sacrificed your career to be with your family?

Don't call it a sacrifice. I am as attached to my career as a producer as I was to my career as an actress. As a producer I have the freedom to carry my work home. I can't neglect the home that my mother built and Yusufsaab and I nurtured like our own child. I will give my serial the attention it deserves. [But] if my husband or brother needs me, I won't think twice before leaving the serial in the hands of my very professional team.

Please don't misunderstand. I love my work. But I love my family much more. The serial is in good hands. We have left no stone unturned to make sure that the serial is well made. My director Indrajeet and writer Armaan Shahabi are very competent technicians. My actors -- Jeeten Lalwani, Harsh Khurana, Meenakshi Gupta and Pooja Madan -- are skilled at their jobs. Among the senior artistes, there is Shashikalaji, who worked with both my mother and me in films.

Sahara doesn't have the same reach as STAR Plus. Does that bother you?

Not in the least. There was a time when no one looked towards STAR. Sahara's TRPs [television rating points] have gone up considerably after the Karishma: The Miracles of Destiny controversy. People want to see if there is something different on this other channel.

A specific soap culture has come in where women with excessive mascara and lip gloss and with their hair open ladle the pots in the kitchen. It is illogical. In any case chhota [small] channel and bada [big] channel doesn't bother me. As an actress, I always chose unusual projects while my colleagues opted for big banners. I always wanted to be comfortable with what I was doing. When Rajkumar Kohli made Nagin, he persuaded me for six months to play the title role. I was never convinced I was right for it. When I saw the film, I thought Reena Roy did a far better job than I could ever have.

Are there other prominent roles that you turned down?

Today Devsaab [Dev Anand] and [filmmaker] Vijay Anand would deny it completely, but Guide was offered to me twice. It is a fact that Ted Danielsky [director of the English version] came to me with Guide. At that time I was supposed to start Mehboob Khan's Habba Khatoon. Mehboobsaab required uninterrupted dates in Kashmir. The leading man opposite me was none other than Dilip Kumar. How could I give up this opportunity?

Habba Khatoon never got made. [But] when I look at Guide, I realise I could have never done what Waheedaji did. For one, I was no dancer. [And] I would have looked a complete misfit as a married woman.

Except for the fact that God Almighty suddenly snatches away our loved ones, I have no regrets. God took away my grandmother and mother. My mother lived like a queen. But she left me so poor by going away so suddenly.

She will be happy to know that you made a serial modelled on her favourite show.

[Smiles] Yes. The good news is that Sahara is coming into its own. Life is to stay calm. I throw tantrums only within my family fold. I was taught it is bad manners to throw tantrums outside the family.

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Subhash K Jha

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