Shonali Bose made her debut in 2005 with Amu, in which an adopted woman looks for her biological mother, and followed it up in 2014 with Margarita With A Straw, about the bond between a woman living with cerebral palsy and her cancer-stricken mother. Bose’s latest movie The Sky is Pink is the final chapter in “a trilogy about the mother-child relationship and death”, the 54-year-old director told Scroll.in.
The Sky is Pink stars Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Farhan Akhtar, Zaira Wasim and Rohit Saraf, and will be premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 13. The India release is on October 11.
The movie is based on the family of motivational speaker Aisha Chaudhary, who died in 2015 at the age of 18 after being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. For Bose, the film is also semi-autobiographical: her 16-year-old son Ishan died in a freak accident in 2010. Although The Sky is Pink is in Hindi, its English title holds clues to its message about freedom, identity and love, Bose said in an email interview. Edited excerpts.
What was it about Aisha Chaudhary’s story that made you believe that there was a film here?
It is not Aisha Chaudhary’s story, actually, but the story of her parents from the time they fell in love to the first six months after her death. Their story is told from her perspective.
Having lost my own son and found peace and acceptance with it, I was interested as a filmmaker to explore this subject. I was also intrigued and inspired by the Chaudharys’ relationship. It is a rare couple who survive the death of their child. I also found them inspiring as parents, particularly Aditi, who was a tigress when it came to her kids and even took on the medical establishment boldly. I love that she came up with a mental bucket list for her daughter and made each moment count of her remaining short life.
The original protagonist, in fact, was purely Aditi, the mother. In later drafts, I strengthened the father Niren’s role, and they became equal.
Did you meet Aisha before or while writing the screenplay?
I wrote the screenplay after a detailed two-week-long (eight hours a day) narration from Aditi of their lives from when they were 16 to them being 53. And I mean detail! Aditi is a great narrator and has an elephantine memory. I have hardly ever veered from incidents from their life. Almost every scene is exactly as it happened, including a hilarious one in a shopping mall.
Aisha herself died before I met her. I heard about her from her entire family and friends as well as read everything she had written, including emails to her brother and her artwork. I spent time in her room. I even wore a coat that Aditi gifted me on the day of her barsi and felt like I was in her skin. I lay in her bed and breathed in her essence. I felt her strongly and feel connected with her even though we never met.
What is the significance of the title?
Society puts us in boxes and tells us how to live our lives; who to love; what to be. We struggle for our very identities. Who really has freedom from their parents, families, peers to truly be themselves and live their lives the way they want without being judged?
Your sky can be whatever colour you choose it to be. For one of the characters in the film, it is pink. For another, it can be a rainbow of colors. What colour is your sky? I hope every person in the audience of this film asks themselves this question.
This is your second film about a character with a developmental condition. What is it about these subjects that draws you?
Nothing like that – what is more true is that this ends my trilogy on the mother-child relationship and death. Those are the stronger threads that have drawn me and I have consciously chosen.
The fact that Laila [in Margarita With A Straw] had cerebral palsy is incidental. Margarita was not exploring that condition nor looking at Laila with pity. It was about her struggle to love and accept herself. Just as Kaju in Amu had to struggle with external factors to find herself.
I would have written about Aditi and Niren even if Aisha died suddenly in an accident. I did not choose this story because she had SCID or pulmonary fibrosis.
How do you ensure sensitive portrayals without brushing potentially uncomfortable subjects under the carpet (bisexuality in ‘Margarita With A Straw’, for instance)?
I believe in honest, authentic cinema, and I have very high demands of my actors. The rehearsal process is intense and in it, we delve deep into their characters. Also, as part of that process, I form an emotional bond with them which is honest and real and helps us both when on set.
In The Sky is Pink, because of the fact that it took almost a year to shoot, I formed the deepest relationships yet. My actors went through so much in between shoots. And I was there holding their hands in the ups and downs of their lives. That is the only way I know how to be. Fiercely loving and protective – my actors are my children at the time of making a film.
I am also very conscious of steering clear of melodrama and exploiting or manipulating you with overwrought emotions. I want you to feel what my characters feel but also give you space. This is part of my film form.
Tell us about the process of casting your actors and working them through their parts.
I felt intimidated and nervous that I would not be able to elicit this work or form such relationships with stars as I had in the past with all my actors. Right at the beginning, though, these fears were allayed.
I met Priyanka first in New York and I talked to her about my son Ishan. In fact, as I told her the film was his gift to me as it was on his birthday that I heard that she wanted to meet me. Right then I knew the film was going to happen and had his blessing. She was deeply impacted by our conversation and channelled me and Ishan for her performance as Aditi. Through the year we had many deep chats about death – her father’s, my son’s as well as about other personal things. I love that it was during the making of this film that she fell in love and got married.
Farhan – I was even more nervous of as he is also a wonderful director himself. But right at our first meeting, he disarmed me by saying he was blown away by the script and extremely nervous about doing the film and would be placing himself completely in my hands.
Zaira loved the script and narration too. We went on to form a very close bond that I still have. She is my bachchi. Rohit – I fell in love with at his audition. He was so easy and so beautiful to work with. A tremendously sensitive actor.