The announcement of our engagement on October 2, 1966, reverberated with sensational and joyous tidings all over the country. It was an indescribable experience.
The media was splashing the news all over and the radio stations kept on announcing the event every couple of hours. There was an air of great festivity in Bombay (and probably elsewhere as well) as all available loudspeakers belted out our favourite film songs!
The news of our forthcoming marriage came as a surprise to all those who had thought I was an unrelenting, highly eligible bachelor who would never settle down. My fans and also my friends, such as Satish Bhalla, Raj Kapoor, producer Ved Puri, Hiten Choudhary, Pran and Balraj Kohli, were agog with ‘how did this happen’? Saira’s career was just five years old; we had never worked together and were never linked romantically. Consequently, there literally was a storm in the minds of people, who were eager to see us together and have a glimpse of us together.
As for Saira, Naseem Aapa had told me, in her own dignified manner, that she was beside herself with joy, celebrating the granting of a long-cherished desire of being my wife.
At that point of time, I was to finish the final schedules of ‘Ram Aur Shyam’ in Madras and then travel with producer-director H.S. Rawail to Calcutta to do some scripting work and also to finalise a temple outdoor location there for the film ‘Sunghursh’ (eventually released in July 1968). Saira and Naseem Aapa were also headed for Calcutta to shoot outdoors for director Lekh Tandon’s ‘Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan’.
At the Calcutta airport, there was a tumultuous sea of people such as we had never seen before in our lives — not even at premieres, functions and rallies that I was so familiar with. As the doors of the aircraft were opened for the passengers to disembark, we had to beat a hasty retreat.
Heaven knows how, despite security barriers put up by the police, fans had accessed even the tarmac, not just the airport. Eventually, we somehow got to our car, which was surrounded by thousands of fans and, as a gesture of great love, the car was lifted up by them as we sat inside! We could hear just one voice chanting: ‘Mubarak! Mubarak!’ (Congratulations! Congratulations!)
Somehow, we managed to drive away from the airport and were rushed inside the Grand Hotel (where we were to stay) through the kitchen entrance and up to our suites on an upper floor. Soon enough, there was a storm of ‘knock knock’ on all the doors on our floor! Lo and behold! How had the fans got past security and reached outside our suites? The hotel management was flustered and nervous and Naseem Aapa and film producer H. S. Rawail were of the view that it would be impossible to go out and work in these conditions. \
Sure enough, at seven the next morning, on looking out of our windows we saw the extensive maidan in front of the building strewn with odd pairs of shoes, umbrellas, clothing and other items as though it had been a battlefield the earlier night! Saira’s outdoor unit of ‘Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan’ simply had to pack up. There was no way anyone could access the shoot spot because of the happy fans blocking the area in their joyous delirium, hoping to find us there!
All of us conferred and I decided that it was best to fulfil the yearning of our fans to see us together. I insisted we must at once accelerate our marriage plans from the end of the year to immediately. Now! I suggested to Naseem Aapa, and phoned Sultan who was in Bombay, that we should get back home forthwith.
I was clear in my mind that I wanted a simple nikah (marriage) with Saira in the next couple of days. At the same time, I lost no time in conveying my decision to Sakina Aapa, my elder brother Noor Sahab and Aquila Bhabi, taking their ‘ijazat’ (permission) for the most important step in my life. Similarly younger brothers Nasir, Ahsan (Aslam had settled in America) and my sisters Taj, Saeeda, Farida and Fauzia were informed. Akhtar was estranged from the family after her alliance with K. Asif.
There would be no time for any grand arrangements for the event; nor would there be any finery vis-a-vis wedding clothes and jewellery. In fact, I said that all we needed was a Maulvi Sahab to solemnize our nikah and ‘chuaaras’ (dried dates) to distribute as per the ritual. We did not even have time to print cards or prepare a proper list of guests! Close friends were just a phone call away!
So, Saira and I, who had in our professional lives and otherwise, worn the most elegant, custom-made apparel throughout, just wore what Naseem Aapa could quickly muster together in a short while! Naseem Aapa had been the power house of guidance to Saira, in her make-up and wardrobe, the lady who designed and created all of Saira’s gorgeous costumes and jewellery at a time when there were no designers as such, and her name had become synonymous with great taste. People looked forward to seeing what Saira would wear in her films, or even at a premiere.
Coverage of our marriage by the media, as the date was hurriedly fixed and announced as October 11, 1966, generated nationwide attention and created headlines in newspapers. We had very little time to ourselves as the attention we continued to get from the media, friends, relatives and close family members just wouldn’t stop!
(Excerpted from Dilip Kumar’s ‘The Substance And The Shadow – An Autobiography’, as narrated to Udayatara Nayar, with the permission of Hay House Publishers India.)