It is difficult to pigeonhole Roohi Bano’s body of work. At times her acting seems visceral and uninhibited, as is the case with most of the roles she has played in television plays. On the other hand, she has also done roles in which her work is methodical and measured. This can be seen in some of the characters she has portrayed on celluloid. So it would be hard, for even someone like Constantin Stanislavski, to categorise Bano’s tremendous acting talent.

Roohi Bano shot to fame in the 1970s with her remarkable performances in television drama serials. It was Kiran Kahani, penned by Hasina Moin, which turned her from a budding actress into a household name. Her portrayal of a seemingly confident girl at odds with societal norms was very well received. Owing to the success of the drama, she was inundated with offers from the film industry, because at the time graduating from television to the silver screen was thought to be the natural upward trajectory for actors. In Kiran Kahani she acted alongside seasoned performers like Manzoor Qureshi, Qazi Wajid and Begum Khursheed Mirza and she was never for a moment eclipsed by any of them.

In mid-70s Bano worked in quite a few films — Palki, Kainat, Goonj Uthi Shehnai etc. However, the ‘loudness’ that had begun to creep into Pakistani films in the late 1970s culminating in the gandasa-wielding hoopla of the 1980s was against her grain. After all, she had a master’s degree in psychology. Therefore, she saved the best of her work for the contextually rich TV long plays (tele-films in today’s parlance) of the 1980s.

In that regard, her performances in Zard Gulab, directed by Mohammad Nisar Husain, and Kala Diara, helmed by Iqbal Ansari, immediately come to mind. Kala Diara pivoted around a woman whose husband is unfaithful to her and she can’t figure out or resolve the situation. It’s a portrayal that required subtlety, and that’s exactly what Bano brought to the table.

Those who have followed the actress’s career with a keen eye suggest that it’s the play Darwazah, written by Munno Bhai, in which she outdid herself. Her depiction of a girl troubled by a life-threatening disease was as close to reality as they come. It’s a note-perfect piece of acting that certified her position as one of the finest thespians the country ever produced. Some are of the opinion that the character in Darwazah had a prophetic air about it, because what she went through in real life years later was similar to her tormented role in the drama — a classic example of life imitating art.

It wouldn’t be too wrong to say that ever since Khalida Riyasat passed away and Roohi Bano disappeared from the showbiz radar, the quality of acting in Pakistan, with reference to female performers, has left much to be desired.

Today, when Bano languishes in her home in Lahore all by herself, probably can’t even reminisce about her glorious past, life awaits her return from the clutches of art. — Peerzada Salman



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