LAHORE: Roohi Bano, known for her remarkable performances as one of the first few leading actors to appear on Pakistan television, passed away after a long illness on Friday.
According to family members, Bano was in Istanbul, living with her sister Robina Yasmeen and the latter’s son. She had been ill for some time and medical reports showed that both her kidneys had failed. She was put on a ventilator when her condition deteriorated. She died after 10 days.
Yasmeen told Dawn from Istanbul that Bano had arrived back in Turkey in November as she was weary of her surroundings and also needed treatment.
Yasmeen said that she wanted the burial of her sister in Pakistan. It’s her earnest wish that her sister should be buried next to her son in Pakistan, she said.
She said that Bano had been buried temporarily (amanatun) in Istanbul after no response from the government in Pakistan about taking her body to Lahore.
Earlier, Yasmeen said that the Punjab Ministry of Culture had contacted her asking what arrangements could be made for Bano’s funeral in Pakistan. However, she said she didn’t remember the name of the person who called her from the ministry.
When contacted, Minister for Culture Fayyazul Hassan Chuhan denied any such contact. “We have not contacted her family in Turkey,” he said.
Yasmeen appealed to Prime Minister Imran Khan to make arrangements for her sister’s burial in Pakistan since she was a legendary actor.
She lamented that Imran Khan’s government had not extended any financial help to the performer. During Nawaz Sharif’s government she was given Rs1 million as financial assistance. “I hope that Imran Khan will respond to my appeal for the burial arrangements of Roohi Bano in Pakistan”.
Roohi Bano was a daughter of legendary tabla player Ustad Allah Rakha and the half-sister of Zakir Hussain.
She was diagnosed with schizophrenia after she was taken to Fountain House, Lahore. She was often recognised on the streets by admirers, but her appearance was not that of a veteran actor.
“She was seen dressed in odd clothes, for example in an overcoat and boots in the middle of summer,” says Michelle Chaudhry, who helped in providing Bano with food and clothing during a short time in her life, before she was taken to Fountain House.
She struggled through two marriages, but it was in 2005, after her only son Ali was murdered, that Bano’s mental health took a turn for the worse. She was often seen carrying a doll that she claimed was her son.
Even her belongings at home were broken down, with ironically the television being the only thing that worked.
After the murder of her son, her sister Robina took her to Fountain House where she underwent treatment for schizophrenia.
Once again Bano faced threatening circumstances, when she survived an attack on her life reportedly, over a property dispute.
During her illustrious career as an actor, she earned several awards, including the President’s Pride of Performance Award, two PTV awards, Nigar Award, Graduate Award and Lux Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Roohi Bano brought such a mixture of psychological complexity, conflict and spontaneity to her character that this combination is irreplaceable,” recalls veteran writer Mustansar Husain Tarar. Bano acted with Tarar in 1968 for the first time in Faraar, alongside senior actor Mohammad Qavi Khan. “I was playing a psychologist in that play, and it is sad but never did I think at the time that Roohi Bano would become a victim of so many psychological problems, or that she would become so alone in her life.”
Tarar says that in the drama Dastan-i-Habib, Bano would cry in a scene, but then she would not be able to stop herself from crying. “Although the term was not coined back then, Bano showed magical realism through her acting with the range of emotions she expressed,” he said.
Writer Asghar Nadeem Syed says that symptoms of mental stress were apparent even then. “She would suddenly start laughing, or start crying, and wouldn’t stop,” he says. “She went into severe shock after her son’s murder. She broke down to such an extent that even if her friends wanted to help her, they could not.”
Shahid Naseem, also a writer, said that Roohi Bano was the first of PTV’s ‘mega stars’ when he joined the channel’s Lahore station.
“She was a quite sensation, with her persona, and the intensity of her work made her one of the greatest influences among many,” he remembers. “She was full of conflicts and contradictions, and many people also ended up in exploiting her vulnerability which unsettled her further. She saw a lot of betrayal in her life too.”
Nadeem says that because of Bano’s style of acting she was perfect for television. “She was so focused and engrossed in her characters, playing complex and unusual characters... But she was also aloof and ‘naturally’ possessed a star presence.”
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, PML-N leader Hamza Shahbaz and others have regretted her death, saying that Bano was a phenomenal actor and her death would be a great loss to the industry. They expressed condolences with Bano’s family.
Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2019