Oscar Hamilitine wrote a beautiful lyric in his book:-
“She is an angel glow that lights a star; She is an electric light, she turned on an actor.”
It is Pakistan’s privilege and honour that we have had and have female artistes who embody Oscar Hamilitine’s lyric. When, the legendary Waheed Murad was asked the difference between an ‘actor’ and an ‘artist’, he said that an artist is “purity” or he or she is an embodiment of purity. His or her person is not separated from their craft; they define themselves by name, by art, by national identity in one, as first person. Only a pure personality that needs no cleansing can fit into a vessel, an artist is ray of light that knows no limits. His or her purity would make them play effortlessly as many characters, be it 5, 10, 100 or more. Finally, he said that an actor believes and asserts that he is an artist when he is anything but-‘impurity’ can never become ‘purity’. They are like parallel lines that can never meet. If you know the difference, you passed the litmus test. An artist lives a humble, modest and aggrieved life, he or she does not rely on titles, medals, accolades, box office statistics or ratings, comments and comparisons; an artist is beyond all these. An artist leaves his or her legacy to God. The sign of a true artist is that he or she lives a unique life of trial and tribulation and his or her artistic purity takes its toll physically and emotionally.
What Waheed Murad described is present in the life stories of Roohi Bano, Yasmeen Ismail, Khalida Riyasat, Uzma Gillani-these are women who have defined Art and the female artist in Pakistan. While Roohi Bano has lived a turbulent life that only she herself could understand, Khalida Riyasat and Yasmeen Ismail have succumbed to cancer, while Uzma Gillani is suffering from this deadly disease. Uzma Gillani in a recent interview stated that her artistic endeavour has contributed to her disease. Similar statements have been made by Roohi Bano and the late Khalida Riyasat and Yasmeen Ismail. Choosing to live the life of an artist does come with a price.
What do these women have in common? They are or were highly educated. Roohi Bano has a Masters in Psychology. She has a profound knowledge in English, Urdu and foreign literature. She is a very good writer and her expression, verbal, written or physical is truly unique. Yasmeen Ismail studied in many schools and convents as her father, an army colonel, got posted from one place to another. She graduated from Home Economics College. Uzma Gillani and Khalida Riyasat received very good college education.
Three actresses Uzma Gillani, Khalida Riyasat, and Roohi Bano worked in a play called “Nasheman” in 1982. They were or are enterprising; Khalida Riyasat was very active in the fields of Arts, her outgoing personality made her a strong candidate to play the principal role in the film “Dehleez” a.k.a. “Doorstep”, which she refused and was later played by Shabnum. Yasmeen Ismail made plays for children and adapted foreign screenplays. She was seriously committed to theatre. Uzma Gillani made a team with Asif Raza Mir in advertising but parted ways later on, yet she is still involved in the field of advertising. Roohi Bano except for the recent time following the death of her young son Ali was active in Arts her entire life. She even started an individual campaign leading by example for Pakistanis to purchase local products. Extremely patriotic, she refused to accept Indian nationality saying that her life and death is Pakistan. One final aspect all four actresses have in common is their versatility in their craft, their ability to emote without words, through expression; their eyes have an ocean of emotion in them, and their complete dedication and humility when it comes to their craft.
The question we need to raise as a society is why are the pure, dedicated and innocent the hardest hit in Pakistani society? Why artists are never insured and respected? Their contribution ignored. Women are alone by plight, and the combination of woman and artist is the most unfortunate combination. Khalida Riyasat died alone of cancer; no one came to her aid. She was 43 years old. Roohi Bano was bankrupt; her electricity was cut off in the scalding months of May, June and July. The press and neighbours and the so-called artistic community in Pakistan knew of her circumstances but no one came to her aid as well. With no one to comfort and look after her after the tragic loss of her son, her sister resorted to sending her to Fountain House in Lahore for the mentally ill. Yasmeen Ismail was a lonely cancer victim at the end of the day and Uzma Gillani is not living an easy life. The question we should ask as a society is why are artists treated this way in our country? Why do we shun them away? Why we have more actors, more cheats today than real artists? Why is deception celebrated in our society and authenticity eradicated and rejected? Why is society so cruel and partial to women who enter the field of Arts? Why are we cruel to women, when morality, principles and religion instructs us to be otherwise? My prayer is that no woman will end up like Khalida Riyasat or Roohi Bano again. Ameen.