A leading star of films between 1961 and 1988, Saira Banu made her acting debut opposite Shammi Kapoor in the 1961 film Junglee. The performance won her, her first Filmfare nomination as Best Actress. She went on to act in many successful films such as Jhuk Gaya Aasman (1968), and Ayee Milan Ki Bela (1964) with Rajendra Kumar, and April Fool (1964) with Biswajeet. She also acted in five films with Joy Mukherjee, namely Aao Pyar Karen (1964), Saaz Aur Awaaz (1966), Door Ki Awaz (1964), Yeh Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hai (1966), and Shagird (1967). The turning point of her career is considered to be a comedy and love story Padosan in 1968 opposite Sunil Dutt. The film catapulted her into the top league of successful actresses of the time. She was among the highest-paid actresses in the 1960s and 1970s. A delicate beauty, she nonetheless had tenacity and spirit. To her credit, in the male-dominated film industry, she played heroine to Shammi Kapoor in Subodh Mukherjee's Junglee and, 14 years later, played his daughter in B R Chopra's Zameer (1975).
Born on 23 August 1944, to renowned 1940s actress mother Naseem Banu and Mian Ehsaan-ul-Haq, Saira Banu spent much of her childhood in London. A finishing school product, she nonetheless fit the rustic beauty role in her debut film Junglee perfectly. The Subodh Mukherji directed film revolved around a humorless and pompous businessman who goes wild when he falls in love. Saira Banu was cast as the innocent village lass the wild city cad loses his heart to. However, his domineering mother is not as accepting of the change in him. The film also featured Shashikala.
Saira Banu is known for films such as Junglee (1961), Shaadi (1962), Bluff Master (1963), Aao Pyar Karen (1964), Ayee Milan Ki Bela (1964), April Fool (1964), Door Ki Awaz (1964), Pyar Mohabbat (1966), Saaz Aur Awaz (1966), Yeh Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hai (1966), Diwana (1967), Aman (1967), Shagird (1967), Jhuk Gaya Aasman (1968), Padosan (1968), Aadmi Aur Insaan (1969), Sagina Mahato (1970), Gopi (1970), Purab Aur Pachhim (1970), Balidaan (1971), Pattharon Ka Shaher (1972), Victoria No. 203 (1972), Daman Aur Aag (1973), Jwar Bhata (1973), Pocketmaar (1974), Resham Ki Dori (1974), Paise Ki Gudiya (1974), Sagina (1974), International Crook (1974), Aarop (1974), Saazish (1975), Chaitali (1975), Aakhri Daao (1975), Mounto (1975), Zameer (1975), Aarambh (1976), Nehle Pe Dehlaa (1976), Hera Pheri (1976), Koi Jeeta Koi Hara (1976), Bairaag (1976), Mera Vachan Geeta Ki Qasam (1977), and Kaala Aadmi (1978).
In the following decade, she worked in films such as Desh Drohi (1980), Duniya (1984), and Faisla (1988). She also produced the film Ab To Banja Sajanwa Hamaar (2006). She most recently appeared on screen in Celluloid Man (2018), a film directed by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, in which she played herself.
On 11 October 1966, aged 22, she married Dilip Kumar (Yusuf Khan), the leading actor of the time. He was 44 at the time. In the late 1960s, the industry was flooded with rumors of Saira Banu being afflicted by a serious blood disease - it was actually a severe case of colitis. She had to take a break and lost out on many films at the time.
It was understood after their marriage that she would not act in any more films. However, Dilip Kumar saw the rushes of Shagird and told her that she was so good that it would be criminal of him to stop her from working further. After that, Manoj Kumar came to Kumar with the request that he wanted Saira Banu to do Purab Aur Paschim, followed by Mehmood for Padosan. Both Manoj and Mehmood said that they would shelve their respective films if Kumar didn't allow her to get into their films. Once she recovered, she starred as the smoking, drinking, miniskirt flaunting Indian girl in Purab Aur Paschim. The film was a huge success and honed Saira Banu's Westernised image. She went on to be flooded with offers and she was back in the reckoning. She later voluntarily quit films for less hectic home life.
Saira Banu has a brother, Sultan Ahmed, father of Shaheen, who was also an actress. Shaheen was married to actor, Sumit Saigal, and the couple has a daughter, Sayesha, who also entered films.