Roohi Bano: In and out of darkness

Published May 3, 2015
Roohi Bano with her Lifetime Achievement Award at the LSAs in 2011
Roohi Bano with her Lifetime Achievement Award at the LSAs in 2011

This article was originally published in Dawn in 2015. Roohi Bano passed away on January 25, 2019.

Much has been written about the finest actress of her time, from her outstanding PTV career to her present-day anguish. Perhaps the word that best describes Roohi Bano’s current predicament is ‘unfortunate’ — she has suffered so much at the hands of ill-fate and repeated mishaps that it seems all that remains for her now is pain and agony.

Had Bano’s life been the subject of a film, it would have been quite a tear-jerker. After two failed marriages, her son’s murder in the prime of his youth left her already-tormented soul deeply wounded.

Bano’s sadness also stems from the fact that she suffers from schizophrenia. A ray of hope broke through the gloom when she began to respond well to treatment at the care facility, Fountain House. But the break in medication, the lack of emotional support and now a murderous attack in what seems to be an effort to forcefully occupy the only real asset she has, her house, have undone all of the progress she was making earlier.

She was once a powerhouse performer of Pakistan’s entertainment industry, but now through a series of misfortunes, Roohi Bano has become a symbol of helplessness and grief

The recent threat to her life came last week when Bano was attacked by her son’s friend according to an FIR filed at the Gulberg police station, after she refused to sell her Gulberg residence to him. The suspect had allegedly been pressing her for a couple of months to sell the property to him. Upon her refusal, he attacked her with a sharp object and fled. She sustained injuries on her head and ear, and according to hospital sources, her condition is now stable and she is out of danger.

Images on Sunday got in touch with her therapist, Dr Asim Amjad, who treated her with art and drama therapy at Fountain House, Lahore in 2009-2010. When asked why she had stopped visiting the care facility and if she required constant medication and treatment, Dr Amjad revealed that lack of proper care could lead to a patient’s deterioration and even death under such circumstances.

Dr Amjad has since left the care facility but has two things to say: first, a schizophrenic patient needs round-the-clock medication and care. If such a patient quits taking medication, s/he goes into full relapse. Second, Bano lacks emotional support (family, parents, children etc). Both medication and emotional support are urgently needed in order for Bano to survive.

So why did Roohi Bano stop visiting Fountain House after successful treatments? “Dr Haroon Rasheed, the then Honorary Executive Director, was a very kind-hearted person. He went out of his way to treat her through art and drama therapy and I was her therapist. She made such a remarkable recovery that we did a play with her, Roohi ki Kahani, Roohi ki Zubani at the Alhamra,” added Dr Amjad.

For a whole year, no one was allowed to see her except her sister. Initially, she was in the worst state of mind and would have hallucinations of her son visiting her. Her recovery came only after months of painstaking treatment. After Dr Haroon Rasheed passed away, the treatment sessions were discontinued as Bano could not afford to pay at the time, and have since remained discontinued.

Aik Aur Aurat was Roohi Bano’s comeback play
Aik Aur Aurat was Roohi Bano’s comeback play

Roohi was also promised financial assistance by the Punjab government when she was under treatment at Fountain House. Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi had announced a sum of Rs0.5 million. IoS asked actress-turned-politician Kanwal whether the Punjab Government is still supporting Bano to which she said that a sum of Rs25,000 per month is extended to Roohi Bano from the Artist’s Welfare Fund.

A couple of months back, a high-profile film actor (who requests anonymity) requested the President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain for Bano’s financial assistance and the President issued a cheque of Rs1 million for the ailing actress. The question remains: where is all the money going if it’s not being spent on her treatment and well-being?

There is a dire need for institutions related to arts and culture to make the lives of artists bearable when they can no longer fulfill their professional commitments. Already too many of them have died while desperately pleading for charity.

Roohi’s sister Rubina Yasmin doesn’t want to talk to the media on this topic. IoS tried to approach her twice but she refused to comment, “I don’t want to talk to the media on any issue.” She gave a similar statement when contacted after the attack on her sister.

All said and done, there is a dire need for institutions related to arts and culture to make the lives of artists bearable when they can no longer fulfill their professional commitments. Already too many of them have died while desperately pleading for charity. There is a dire, urgent need for some kind of effective mechanism to be in place so that no artist shall suffer in silence in their later years after having given their life’s blood to this nation.

Also, the Pakistan National Council of the Arts once planned a documentary on Roohi Bano while Tauqeer Nasir was at the helm of affairs at the PNCA. Sadly, the project never materialized. All the more ironic since Roohi and Tauqeer have appeared in successful PTV Lahore centre productions together.

Once upon a star

Roohi Bano, an amazing actress, joined the TV fraternity when she was doing her MSc in Psychology from the Government College, Lahore. She is still ranked as among the best acting talents that the country has produced.

Roohi Bano’s first television appearance was in a quiz show in her student days. Then Farooq Zamir offered her to act in plays. She accepted the offer while continuing her studies that culminated in an MSc degree in Psychology. Roohi married twice and also acted in a few films but television is where her heart is. Her outstanding performances in Qila Kahani, Zard Gulab, Hairatkada, Darwaza, Kiran Kahani etc, placed her head and shoulders above her counterparts.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 3rd, 2015

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