If there was ever a biopic made on the rise and fall of an actress in Pakistan, Roohi Bano’s name would top that list because she witnessed both stardom and loneliness in one lifetime. The 67-year old actress began her career in the seventies and went onto become a household name, thanks to her many television dramas and film appearances.
After the tragic death of her son Ali in 2005, she became a recluse and was even treated for mental illness, which was both shocking and heartbreaking, considering she was one of the most recognizable faces in the country when she was in her prime.
But in Pakistan, artists become disposable once they are past their prime and Roohi Bano certainly is one example, but not the only.
Born to world famous tabla maestro Ustad Allah Rakha, Roohi Bano was introduced to television when she was a student pursuing her Masters in Psychology from the Government College, Lahore.
It was veteran actor Farooq Zamir who saw the spark in her during her appearance on a quiz show and offered her an opportunity to act in plays and she turned out to be a natural.
With Kiran Kahani, she became a household name; a fact that was further consolidated by her other plays including Qila Kahani, Zard Gulab, Hairatkada, Darwaza and Kala Daira.
Her personal life was more or less like the characters she played – in Munno Bhai’s Darwaza, she played a girl suffering from a life-threatening disease while in Iqbal Ansari’s Kala Daira, she essayed the role of a wife who has no idea how to tackle her cheating husband. In real life, she suffered from mental illness and also went through two failed marriages, ending up alone in her final days.
She also acted in a handful of films mostly in the 1970s, opposite the most dashing heroes of that era including Waheed Murad, Mohammad Ali, and Nadeem. Her films Palki, Kainat, Goonj Uthi Shehnai, and Zameer did well but she wasn’t able to make it as a film heroine because the trend of Urdu films was disappearing as the gandasa culture was becoming popular and a soft-spoken actress like Roohi Bano would have been a misfit.
She did try to make a comeback via television several years ago but despite the best intentions of the makers, her return was limited to just one appearance. Due to her constant personal struggles - she was under treatment for suffering from schizophrenia - Roohi Bano ended up alone and breathed her last in Istanbul, Turkey, where she was under treatment for various health issues. She will not only be missed by all those who watched her in Urdu dramas but will go down in history books for her natural ability to act that led to some iconic performances. May she rest in peace.