Director: Shonali Bose
Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Priyanka Chopra, Zaira Wasim, Rohit Saraf
From the time Priyanka Chopra-starrer Mary Kom (2014) graced the screens, biopics haven’t stopped raining in Bollywood. Cinematically presenting a living human’s extraordinary life has been quite the norm. But with Shonali Bose directed The Sky is Pink cine-goers have now been treated to a slice-of-the-life film – narrated by a protagonist (Aisha Chaudhary played by Zaira Wasim) who’s at the heart and soul of it, but no longer there to see what becomes of her story.
To top it all – there are ample opportunities to giggle, raise our eyebrows at a naughty schoolgirl discussing the ins and outs of her parents’ sex life from the afterlife, and feel her ‘teen angst’ over unrequited love as much as the actual, physical limitations she was born, and then had to die with.
Because that is how the makers likely intended the audience to feel – there is life, and there is death, but there’s so much to cherish before and after death. Aisha suffered from a rare genetic disorder called Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease (SCID) throughout her life – a crucial aspect that the makers have been careful in portraying without going overboard with the tragedy inherent in this condition. One can see that the film is painted with broad strokes of hope and joy, rather than the predictable terrain such a subject could involuntarily veer into.
Perhaps, Aisha saw her life as magic and the filmmakers found no reason to infuse cloying sentimentality and deliberate sobriety in a human story that, as we see it today, is far greater than the sum of its parts.
Niren (Farhan Akhtar) and Aditi (Priyanka Chopra) make you chuckle at numerous points in the film – their days of falling in love and being carefree, their conversations around unprotected sex, even the way they handle a marital squabble over Niren helping out some to-be-divorced woman – are all cute and genuinely enjoyable. But what truly takes your breath away is how the pair navigate the ugly, frightening parts – with resilience and blind faith. In whatever higher power had brought them to this stage, but most of all, in each other to see this through.
However, make no mistake. The unmistakable beauty in, and the poignant remnants of the Chaudhary family’s shared lives that the audience gets to experience in the film has been hard-won, crafted and built from the ground up with unflinching patience, an unwavering sense of duty, and astounding willpower but most of all, undying, unconditional love.
What begins with an oddly exciting yet tense moment surrounding Aisha’s conception almost twenty-three years ago swiftly turns into a financial and emotional roller-coaster – tearing the Chaudharys’ lives apart, yet making them just as stronger and indefatigable as a married couple. Their love endures moving to a foreign land without preparation, later travelling back and forth between India and London while trying to hold on to their marriage and working night and day shifts for Aisha’s treatment, even going without long stretches of no intimacy. A concerned look here, an understanding hug there – in the midst of cranky conversations when the pair do meet between beginning and ending the day – is all they can afford.
Farhan Akhtar has been consistently wowing us since his very first film, Rock On. Here too, he impresses us with his measured, yet affecting performance. It is however, Priyanka Chopra as Aditi, who towers over all other performances in The Sky is Pink, and stands out as the thread that holds the various elements of the film together. Chopra has indeed, come a long way as an actor. Nowhere is this more apparent than in her stoic silences when she is faced with the everyday reality of Aisha’s condition, or the fire in her eyes when she walks out of her plush London home like a boss owning her life, or the flicker of indignance that her husband should want her to not talk about their dead child.
There are two scenes in the film that particularly showcase the depth of the lead pair’s acting. Niren and Aditi somehow manage to come to terms with the doomed realization that Aisha would have to undergo bone marrow transplant to extend her life by a few years. But what shocks them more is that the transplant proves to be simply a precursor to a decade-long wait before the doctors could deem Aisha stable. A swath of cold air passes over Niren’s face when he gets hit by the fact that they would have to readjust their lives and careers yet again. By now, viewers would’ve lost count of the trips made between India and London.
The other scene that really gripped me is an altercation between Niren and Aditi in the restroom of an upscale restaurant after the latter storms out of the dining area, following a rather crude and insensitive remark from one of their friends. The couple, who’d just lost Aisha to pulmonary fibrosis, found themselves in a heated conversation about who was to be blamed. But of course, they knew the answers already. They were always fighting a losing battle from the start. Those few heart-rending moments have been brilliantly portrayed by Akhtar and Chopra, who help us have a glimpse into what the Chaudharys may have endured.
Especially Chopra, as Aditi, is magnificent in her role as a mother, but more than that a round-the-clock caregiver. You feel her strength breaking, her tired and empty soul, and yet her single-minded devotion to keep their child alive at any cost. Underneath this crushing responsibility lies the regret that she has not really been there for her elder child, Ishaan (Rohit Saraf). The fact that she may have inadvertently neglected him, haunts her as well.
Being split into hopeful, cynical and guilty bits of yourself is never easy, Chopra essays that with the strokes of an experienced actor who knows the value of underplaying a certain character. The aftermath of death is an impossible grief that refuses to let go, The Sky is Pink, even amidst its light moments never fails to impress upon the audience of the crude reality.
All is not gloom and doom though. There are heart-warming moments between Aisha and her brother Ishaan, who she fondly calls Giraffe. So are her conversations with Niren and Aditi who are Panda and Moose for her, not regular Dad and Mom. It does come across as self-indulgent at times, but what is a teen girl if not childlike?
Viewers might find it disconcerting that a lot of Aisha’s pain and struggles have been brushed under the carpet, or that, most of the movie is about the Chaudharys’ navigating their child’s condition and doing everything in their power to keep her alive – rather than the actual pain of living with such a condition. However, given that the film has been narrated by Aisha, who was in her teens when she passed away, it is understandable why the film is equal parts heart-breaking and equal parts hopeful. Seen from her perspective, her life was every bit a miracle and she chooses to retain nothing but the good parts – regardless of the other world she’s in now.
My only grouse with the movie is that the film did not emphasize enough on Aisha’s book-writing journey (she wrote a book titled “My Little Epiphanies” ). We are never made aware of how the idea of writing a book germinated in her mind or what compelled her to see the beauty in her life. We are merely allowed a cursory glance at these crucial aspects of her life – towards the end of her time on earth, the very things that made her a global icon. Her inner life is never sufficiently probed.
Despite its flaws, The Sky is Pink is still worth a watch, simply because it touches upon the subject of life and death, and life after death using a featherweight approach. You dive deep enough to ponder the meaning of it all, but come out alive just in time to realize – there is nothing, if not beauty, in the moments that try your spirit as a human. It is bittersweet, hopeful even – once you gather the courage to begin at the end. Again. Like Niren and Aditi did.
My rating: 3.5/5