Roohi Bano: A trend-setter in Pakistan TV

TV actor par excellence Roohi Bano, who ruled the hearts of PTV drama fans for years for her incredible performances in the early years of the state television channel, is no more. She was 68. She died in Istanbul, with her sister and a nephew by her side, from kidney failure. She is survived by her sister, extended family members, and countless fans who still remember her timeless performances that refuse to wither away from their memories. Her roles in ‘Qila Kahani’, ‘Hairatkada’, ‘Zard Gulab’, ‘Darwaza’, ‘Kiran Kahani’, etc, refuse to lose their appeal among art lovers. That is the beauty of art, which makes people’s lives and memories refreshing and gives them a purpose to reflect their lives and society. Those fans were, however, often traumatized by the Greek tragedies surrounding the life of Roohi Bano. Her real life remained a sight not to see. She married twice and both marriages failed. Her only son Ali, 24, who gave her reason to live on was killed in cold-blooded murder in 2005. She survived an attack on her life, mainly because of her prime residence. The repeated cruel strikes of life and society took a heavy toll on her health, especially her mental health, landing her in a mental health institute of Lahore. Her mental health issues did not grow overnight. Her colleagues of the 70s and 80s say she would often suffer prolonged fits of rage and laughter at work and in personal life but the limelight of her glamour, fame, and persona did not allow her or her family members to take the symptoms seriously. Herself a psychology graduate from the Government College Lahore, Roohi Bano also failed to read what was inevitable and could have been thwarted with timely treatment. A healthy, mentally and financially stable Roohi Bano would have generated purposeful characters even after her she bade adieu to the acting profession.

Roohi Bano’s life and death serve a reminder to our government and health experts to take mental health a serious issue. Coincident it is that January is being marked the month of ‘Raise awareness, erase stigma’ about mental health issues in Pakistan by the Pakistan Association for Mental Health, far from media galore and government’s interest. According to the association, Pakistan’s 20 percent of the population is suffering from mental illness. What vouch for the accuracy of the fact is our indifference to the growing illness, as a clear-head society would have taken measures to stem the rising tide of mental health issues. The only need of the hour to accept the reality of the issue and come up with measures for the stress-free environment and more treatment facilities. A stress-free environment is only possible when we learn to think positively and shed negative thinking. Some mental health issues are the byproduct of stressors, while several born of genetic and physical changes. With just 75 in-patient facilities, the enormity of the figures demands more such clinics across the country. Roohi Bano is lucky to have received such treatment in the Fountains House but her recovery remained a challenge both to doctors and herself because of the lack of follow-up visits and constant treatment. This again highlights the need to raise awareness among the people about taking mental health treatment a serious issue.

Roohi Bano was buried in Turkey. Her sister wants to bury her in Lahore by the grave of her son. The logistics cost is high, which the family is unable to meet. Some philanthropist or government actions can make it possible. Other than the mental health issue, Roohi Bano’s death reminds us of the necessary to teach artists about financial management and creating artists’ welfare funds. Such measures would help our artists have a life sane worries when they fade. Of course, artists like Roohi Bano never die; they fade.

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