By Subhash K. Jha
Mumbai, Nov 11 (IANS) Prolific filmmaker Mohan Kumar, who died earlier this week, made two of his most important films with Saira Banu. The actress says she will always remember him as a generous and jovial person, who was the only person to have made her sing in a film.
Saira shared some of her memories and anecdotes of working with the director.
She said: “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 1970s. I did one my earliest film ‘Ayee Milan Ki Bela’ 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 of the window and say, ‘Today the cloud factory is in full operation. No shooting today’. He would then organise 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 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 make-up and the Saira without make-up (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…’, 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 right. 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 Saira dance in “Ayee Milan Ki Bela”, he also persuaded her to sing for the second film they did together.
“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… (Saira 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 Shamshad Begum was an accomplished classical singer. And I’d often urge her to teach me.
“She would demand that I sit and practise singing with her, which I never did. But I finally did sing in Mohan Kumar saab’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 mahurat on 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 Mohan Kumar 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 a fun person.”
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