By Poulomi Das Oct. 11, 2019
The Sky Is Pink feels less like a biopic of a dead teenager and more like an unabashed tribute to the two fighters who volunteered to a losing battle for over two decades. It’s predictable and familiar yet affecting and tender, especially as an examination of unconditional caregiving.
Director Shonali Bose was cherry-picked to make The Sky Is Pink, a biopic drama centred on Aisha Chaudhary, a terminally-ill teenager, author, and motivational speaker, who died at the age of 18. Before she died, Aisha had reportedly wanted to watch Bose’s previous outing, Margarita with a Straw, also based on a true story of a young woman living with a debilitating disease. As it turned out, Aisha breathed her last before she could watch it. Getting Bose to adapt her life on the big screen, replete with a generous budget and a star cast then, makes for an affecting coda to Aisha’s death.
But it’s worth noting that Bose adopts a curiously alternative gaze to the dying girl template that terminal dramas like My Sister’s Keeper and The Fault in Our Stars have both popularised and glamourised. This isn’t a film that explores the psyche, anxieties, or even rebellion of a dying teenager (Aisha doesn’t have even one bitter showdown with her parents) with an obsessive attention to detail. Instead, it reverses convention by placing her in the sidelines: Aisha – played by the winsome Zaira Wasim in presumably her final role – is dead when the The Sky is Pink begins. She spunkily narrates the story from beyond the grave (“Oh, and by the way, I’m dead. Get over it!” she says). The spotlight is instead on her family; on her parents, Moose and Panda, who were forced to give up the luxury of being carefree partners and on her brother Giraffe, who felt obligated to run away to protect her. It’s a manual on how families – broken, flawed, self-involved, and doomed – endure themselves.
Over the course of 135 minutes, Bose remains fixated not as much on leading up to the finality of Aisha’s death but in examining the ethos of parenthood; the afterlife of caregiving that depletes one while nourishing the other. It’s why The Sky is Pink feels less like a biopic of a dead teenager and more like an unabashed tribute to the two fighters – Aisha’s parents Aditi (Priyanka Chopra Jonas in her comeback role) and Niren Chaudhary (an affable Farhan Akhtar) – who volunteered to a losing battle for over two decades. It’s tempting to read between the lines here. Back in 2010, Bose lost a teenage son to circumstances beyond her control. Like Aditi, she waged a war: Bose and her husband filed a death-by-negligence suit against a US tools major, a case that was eventually dismissed. The loss of her son also marked the end of her marriage. In comparison, the film has a happier ending. In many ways then, The Sky is Pink feels like a film that chose Bose and not the other way around. It serves additionally, as both a post-mortem of the filmmaker’s own fate and an exercise in second-hand catharsis or wish-fulfillment, depending on which side you are on.
Written by Bose, Nilesh Maniyar, and Juhi Chaturvedi, The Sky Is Pink begins right after Aisha’s death and spans over two decades across two countries, right from Chandni Chowk in 1987, London in the 1990s, to New Delhi from 2008 to 2015. The stakes of the film are explained early on. When Aditi informs Niren that she is pregnant with Aisha, he wants her to abort the child – with good reason. We learn that they had another daughter called Tania who died after contracting combined immunodeficiency soon after being born. There’s a probable chance that any of their children could have the same disease and by extension, meet the same end. Their son Ishaan (Rohit Saraf) escapes that fate, but Aisha, who Aditi eventually gives birth to, becomes its victim.
Even the cheery affection of Zaira Wasimn’s voice is modulated to a precision so that it doesn’t invoke pity.
As a result, Aisha’s life is marked with illness and hospitals from the very beginning. Her treatment requires her to be in London, a move that isn’t initially financially practical for the Chaudharys. So they split up. Niren takes Ishaan with him to Delhi, where he toils day and night to earn a living, while Aditi tends to their daughter in a matchbox apartment in London. Bose draws out the pressures of long-distance marriage, parenthood, and paranoia humorously yet thoughtfully in these portions – a pang of jealousy is underlined by Aisha’s cheeky asides in the voiceover but it also culminates into a sombre sequence of round-the-clock caregiving.
A few months later, Niren and Ishaan move back and the family lives in the outskirts of London until Aisha is 13 years old. A bi-annual blood test that gives out the illusion of normalcy triggers Niren’s decision to move back to Delhi, where the family make a lavish Chattarpur farmhouse their home until Aisha’s death. It’s in this setting that the film plays out its delicate moments while tenderly tracking Aisha’s teenage life. It’s not clear whether she regularly goes to school or is home-bound; she spends her days painting, shopping, developing a crush, and experiencing her first heartbreak.
For the most part, The Sky is Pink plays out predictably: There is a lightness of touch to dilute the grief that death begets, saccharine payoffs (Aisha gets to hold the book she wrote before she dies), the insistence at looking at the bigger picture and celebrating the fickleness of life, and the joking spirit of a dying girl, that now stands the risk of being overused. It is to Bose’s credit that she sniffs out the winning notes from these templates so deftly that it is hard to not be convinced by the significance of the film’s silver linings (the scene that lends the film its title is particularly moving). It’s perhaps, the same reason why any accusation of The Sky is Pink being emotionally manipulative seems unfounded, given Bose hardly has to manufacture any sympathy: After all, the tragedy unfolded in real life long before it plays out on our screens.
The Sky Is Pink is a winsome return to form for Priyanka Chopra.
When the film’s blatant lack of depth – it occasionally feels overstuffed and distracted – threatens to overpower its pleasures, it is redeemed by the effortlessness of its lead performances. Akhtar, an actor with an unremarkable acting career, delivers a supporting performance that delightfully optimises restraint. Notice the quietness in the scene, where he enters a teary Rohit’s room to comfort him after Aisha passes away but ends up crying, himself. As Aisha, the ridiculously talented Wasim, continues being endlessly watchable. Her evocative face has a language of its own and an underwater sequence (an evident harkback to Dil Dhadakne Do, that shares the film’s two leads) where it lights up instinctively is single-handed evidence of how the actor mines sentimentality to make us blindly root for her family without demanding any sympathy for herself. Even the cheery affection of her voice is modulated to a precision so that it doesn’t invoke pity.
Given that The Sky of Pink’s gaze entails that its terminal protagonist acts out lesser than her mother, Chopra Jonas does ample justice to her role, conveying the resilience of grief by turning in a performance that pulsates with emotional ferocity. The actress, who also co-produced The Sky Is Pink, flits between being loving, protective, selfish, careless, and psychologically wounded with an alarming ease. It also helps that the film’s two leads share an electrifying chemistry. In every frame that they are together, Chopra Jonas and Akhtar are devastating as they paint a volatile portrait of a marriage and parenthood that is forced to service one over the other.
Late into the film, there’s a moment where Bose warmly fuses together both their roles in a way that complements their bond: At a Christmas party in their house, Niren shifts gears from a heart-wrenching carol to a more upbeat song the instant he notices that its upsets Aditi, possibly reminding her of Aisha’s impending death. For a moment, their eyes meet and both of them acknowledge each other’s losses in keeping the other sane. It’s an apt summary of The Sky in Pink, which strives to say in as many words, that despite pain or tragedy, love will always remain a choice we can bank on.
When not obsessing over TV shows, planning unaffordable vacations, or stuffing her face with french fries, Poulomi likes believing that some day her sense of humour will be darker than her under-eye circles.