Yes, the sky can be pink too, and it is, at times, when the retreating sun is in a good mood. But could the sky in Shonali Bose’s latest movie have been a bit more blue?
The Sky is Pink is inspired by the real-life Chaudhary family: parents Aditi and Niren and children Ishan and Aisha. Aisha had an immune-deficiency disorder and died at the age of 18 from complications that resulted from her treatment. She was a motivational speaker. She had written a diary of her thoughts, titled My Little Epiphanies, which was published the day before she died.
The movie, Bose’s third after Amu (2005) and Margarita With a Straw (2015), focuses on the caregivers rather than the patient. When Aditi (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) gets pregnant for the third time, she reacts with trepidation rather than joy. A previous child had died from an immune-deficiency disorder as an infant, and there is a chance that the new baby could have it too. Despite this, Aditi and Niren (Farhan Akhtar) decide to bring their daughter into the world. When tests reveal that Aisha too is affected, they leave their home in Delhi for London for lengthy rounds of treatment.
When Aisha (Zaira Wasim) appears to be on the mend, the family returns to Delhi. But after she develops an acute lung condition, her parents and brother Ishan (Rohit Saraf) realise that their worst fears are going to come true.
Why so much drama? This question, asked frequently by Aisha who provides the Sunset Boulevard-style voiceover from beyond the grave, confuses matters in The Sky is Pink. Bose and co-writer Nilesh Maniyar have tried to avoid the cloying sentiment associated with movies about the terminally ill. Aisha has the carefree voice and vocabulary of the average teenager.
The writers have also attempted to showcase the ordinary heroism of Aisha’s parents, who dedicate their lives to their daughter while also doing their best to ensure that Ishan is not neglected. They work hard to be able to pay for Aisha’s treatment. The leap from a sprawling house in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk to a mansion with a swimming pool and enviable creature comforts in the capital’s Chattarpur neighbourhood is short and quick.
There are no treacly speeches and barely any tear-jerking moments. That should be a relief. The average movie about characters on the verge of death is often deeply manipulative, and is aimed at reducing viewers to a mess of helpless tears. The decision to highlight the family’s refusal to succumb to maudlin sentiment should have been a source of strength. Instead, it becomes the movie’s biggest weakness.
The jauntiness is tonally confusing, the frequent comedic moments misplaced and the attempt to be insouciant about death produces no emotional pay-offs. The non-linear structure, with flashbacks that stretch back to Aditi and Niren’s courtship, produce many scenes of romance and friction, but little insight into a marriage severely tested by the death of a child. The flashback-driven structure also prevents viewers from getting a real sense of Aisha’s inexorable decline.
The sincerity of the 149-minute film is never in doubt, but to have been effective, it needed stronger actors and less clutter and over-plotting. Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Farhan Akhtar work hard at their roles, with Chopra Jonas especially throwing herself into portraying Aditi’s obsession over finding a way to prolong her daughter’s life. While Chopra Jonas is more affecting than Akhtar, her perfectly made-up face and fashion-forwardness are huge distractions. Chopra Jonas gets different wigs to signal her aging, but both she and the youthful-looking Akhtar strain to be convincing as the distraught parents of teenagers.
Zaira Wasim and Rohit Saraf are lovely in their roles, but just when they seem to be on the verge of expressing emotional truths, the impact is undermined by the hectic editing and frequent cutaways.
The movie is a deeply personal project for Shonali Bose, who lost her 16-year-old son, Ishan, in a domestic accident in 2010. The Chaudharys appear in a video montage to remind viewers that the events are based on fact rather than imagination. Stripped of these real-life connections, the film struggles to be a convincing portrait of love on the razor’s edge. Everything is insistently pink, and the blues are not shaded in skillfully enough.