Shonali Bose’s The Sky Is Pink, based on the story of real-life motivational speaker/author Aisha Chaudhary, makes an interesting choice early on. It distinguishes itself from similar films about protagonists grappling with a terminal illness, by viewing the whole Chaudhary family as a monolith-like entity, instead of only focusing on the 18-year-old protagonist (played by Zaira Wasim).
Born with severe immune deficiency, Aisha had to go through a bone-marrow transplant when she was barely six months old. Growing up in a highly sensitive environment, she was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis at the age of 15. Ably supported by her father, brother and intensively cared for by her mother, Aisha’s personal diary was made into a book – My Little Epiphanies. While Aisha’s story remains the centre of Bose’s film, the director takes the interesting route of examining the protagonist’s care-givers from the eyes of Aisha.
Aditi & Niren Chaudhary (played by Priyanka Chopra Jonas & Farhan Akhtar respectively) are the tireless (read: rich!) parents, who won’t think twice before taking off on an ’emergency vacation’ simply to nurse their daughter’s first heartbreak. When Aisha embarks on her brief journey of a ‘motivational speaker’, they’re sitting in the front row… probably more nervous than their daughter. When Aisha is having ‘bad thoughts’, she calls her brother Ishaan (Rohit Saraf). Reading the situation quickly, he tells her how he wishes she be reborn as the family’s pet Labrador. Aisha’s glum face is immediately replaced with laughter as she imagines herself leading a much simpler life.
We’ve seen these films since time immemorial, and therefore Bose’s ambition to make a cheerful film about death isn’t particularly novel. The main hurdle here seems to be Bose trying to tell a story that is intimate while also Bollywood-ifying it, to make it more palatable. There are moments when the film expertly walks the line of a morbid comedy, doling out some bizarre circumstances which will soon become anecdotes for uproarious laughter during evening get-togethers. And then, there are moments when The Sky Is Pink goes after the ‘easy cries’, like when the parents are informed about the overwhelming contributions for their daughter’s treatment at the local radio station. Bose is sincere and careful while unboxing the many levels of the family’s grief, however, very little of this feels strikingly personal.
Both Farhan Akhtar and Priyanka Chopra exhibit tremendous command over their characters in some scenes, something one wishes they were more consistent with. Akhtar possesses an ability to glide through the part of a rom-com lead, while also reining it in during the big confrontations. Priyanka Chopra Jonas is superb when she’s playing the Tiger Mom, but falls short when it comes to communicating the complex tics of her character. The one scene where she does let go of her vanity feels terribly jarring. Both Akhtar and Chopra could play ‘hero’ & ‘heroine’ in their sleep, they’re that adept. Unfortunately, the roles of a couple grieving their daughter’s death requires more introspection. Seeing these two stars ready to showoff their actorly selves, collaborating with an independent director, The Sky Is Pink should have been a happier marriage.
In the role of Aisha, Zaira Wasim doesn’t quite surpass her previous performances in Dangal and Secret Superstar. She is obviously affable, which helps with a character like this. But listening to Wasim call her parents ‘Panda’ and ‘Moose’ doesn’t grow on the audience, even after two and a half hours. The voice-over device of Wasim’s character never quite finds its legs, overcompensating for the hip-ness with an avalanche of ‘bros’ and teen-speak like ‘FOMO’. It does slip in the odd gem, like Wasim saying Waddda beauty! when her character appears for the first time as a baby.
This C.O.O.L syndrome affects the film overall as it tries to be artificially chirpy and cheerful, seeming like the director injected some ‘happy syrup’ into portions that were deemed too *serious* in test screenings.
The Sky Is Pink is a decent film, that nearly has all the ingredients for what would qualify as a legitimately good Hindi film. But it’s missing that Chemical X. For all its machinations to attack our tear ducts, Shonali Bose’s film says precisely little about grief that we don’t already know.