The prolific filmmaker Mohan Kumar who passed away quietly this week, made two of his most important films with Saira Banu.
Sairaji takes time off to share her amazing memories of working with Mohan Kumar; “We used to call him Kumar Saab. Together with that other prolific filmmaker J Om Prakash he formed a team of filmmakers who gave us blockbuster after blockbuster all through the 1960s and 70s. I did one my earliest film Ayee Milan Ki Bela(AMKB) with Kumar Saab. This was right after my first film Junglee and I was a newcomer shooting with Rajendra Kumarji and Dharmendraji.The shooting in Kashmir was among the most memorable times I’ve gone through as an actress. There we were at the Srinagar Palace in the beautiful Valley, surrounded by mountains and the lake.We would look out of the window of our hotel and see clouds hanging down. It was paradise! We would shoot in this paradise every day.And on many days we couldn’t because of the weather. Kumar Saab who was jovial and fun-loving would look out if the window and say, ‘Today the cloud factory is in full operation. No shooting today.’ He would then organize indoor games for all of us. Those were days of ties that went much beyond the shooting of a film…I was there with my mother .Everyone called her Aapaji. Her paaya(dessert) was such a favourite that she made it in the kitchen of the hotel in Kashmir for everybody…Kumar Saab loved good food and good music. I must tell you about one incident that happened during the shooting…Kumar Saab came to me and said that that a valet on the floor where I stayed in the hotel claimed I had a twin sister staying with me. In his innocence the valet thought that the Saira in makeup and the Saira without makeup(because that’s how I would be all day when we were confined in the hotel during inclement weather) were two different people..Such was the innocence during those days…I remember in Ayee Milan Ki Bela I had to perform a classical dance for the title song.I couldn’t dance to save my life. To equip myself for the dance in this film I took the help of one of Kathak’s most accomplished exponents Roshan Kumari and slogged day and night to get the steps night.When I finally performed the number everyone on the sets including our director Kumar Saab was stunned. Manmohan Desai with whom I had just done a film Bluff Master was shooting on the adjacent set. He came to watch me dance. He couldn’t believe his eyes because for his film I couldn’t dance to save my life.”
If Mohan Kumar made Sairaji dance in Ayee Milan Ki Bela, he persuaded her to sing for the second film they did together.
Recalls Sairaji, “It was Aman in 1967 a very important film that we shot in Japan. And I did sing , and that too with the one and only Mohd Rafi Saab. The song was..(Sairaji sings)….Aaj ki raat yeh kaise raat ki humko neend nahin aati…. I must tell you, I always craved to sing but was too shy to do so. My grandmother Shahmshad Begum was an accomplished classical singer.And I’d often urge her to teach me. She would demand that I sit and practice singing with her, which I never did. But I finally did sing in Mohan KumarSaab’s Aman with Rafi Saab. Rafi Saab called me Beta and put me completely at ease before the mike.That’s how it happened. Everything about Aman was unique. We did the mahuraton the airport and we released a flight of pigeons in the air for the mahurat shot. We shot the film in Japan.And we’d travel from city to city in the same bus together singing, eating, laughing, joking….Such was the camaraderie that existed among us those days….Would you believe it Mohan Kumar Saab maintained his relations with Yusuf Saab and I until last year.Every year on our birthdays and for any festive occasion he would come home with two garlands for us and have biryani before leaving. For a year we hadn’t seen MohanKumar Saab and I kept asking everyone what happened to him. Now he’s gone. I will always remember him as generous, kind, jovial easygoing and fun person.”