In one of the scenes in The Sky is Pink, Niren Chaudhary, the helpless father, asks his terminally ill child Aisha to consider going for a lung transplant because it can possibly add 10 more years to her life sinking off pulmonary fibrosis. To this, Aisha very pragmatically asks him back if saying goodbyes would become a tad easier at 28 instead of 18. Niren is obviously left speechless. And along with him we are also reminded how it is never going to be easy to face the final eventuality how much ever preparatory time you get. Not today, not tomorrow, not few years later; and not for any of the family members, who are possibly all dying their own emotional deaths even though only one of them will be finally going away. It is then a personal journey of every individual how one wants to deal with the impending death, and find moments of happiness and hope along the way in the zeal of life.
Do we allow ourselves to die every single moment of this scary journey towards death? Or do we make enough happy memories to cherish for a lifetime long after our loved one is gone? Do we shut out all those memories after death deep in our hearts and brood internally in remembrance forever? Or do we wear all our emotions of unbearable pain and frustration up on our sleeve and feel angry on the entire world? There are no perfect answers to these questions, because there is honestly no right or wrong way to grieve. Coping with bereavement is a deeply personal emotion, and only those who have gone through the journey up close with a very near one will know the varied colours of melancholy. And when you have a filmmaker (who has lost her own young son) showing the courage to revisit her chambers of grief again, this time basing it on the first person accounts of the actual Chaudharys – Niren & Aditi, on how they had gone through it all as a family, you get a genuinely moving film talking about birth, death, and the life in between through a very honest, sufficiently messy but significantly humane, and deeply heartfelt construct.
It is important to realize that Aisha Chaudhary (Zaira Wasim) did not face sudden death one fine morning, but was born with a genetic problem of severe combined immuno deficiency that had already taken her elder sister within 6 months of her life. It is hence extremely important to trace down the entire life of her family – parents Niren and Aditi (Farhan Akhtar and Priyanka Chopra) and elder brother Ishaan (Rohit Saraf) to really feel for her and for them, to be a part of their hope and their grief. After all, it is because of the relentless focus and sacrifices of the entire family and their desperation for life that gifted them 18 beautiful years along with Aisha, years that they chose to paint in pink, years that they chose to fill with laughter, spunk and courage to make memories for a lifetime. The beauty of Shonali Bose‘s direction, and the film’s overall writing then lies in the fact that the mutual chemistry between all the four members of the family and all their emotions feels authentic and extremely organic, in spite of a relatively lightweight treatment of death. We buy into it because the brilliant writing by Bose herself along with Nilesh Maniyar and Juhi Chaturvedi helps us to understand the full blown character arcs of all the Chaudharys and get into their mind spaces right from the very beginning.
So we meet Aditi from South Delhi who is supremely confident and a force to reckon with, and who isn’t okay in accepting whatever life throws at her. She will take everything under control and fight for it till the end – whether it is her courtship in the conservative alleys of Chandni Chowk, her choice of a channel with God, an unplanned pregnancy, or the ticking time clock of her daughter’s life. She is as possessive about her husband as she is about her grief and can’t run away from it. She is as planned about giving her daughter all her hormonal experiences within her limited years and as clueless about what to do with her things after her. Her high end anti-aging grooming may hide her wrinkles, but the ruthless weight of time shows in her eyes and her emotions. She is as helpless about her daughter as she is guilty about her son. And yet she is headstrong enough to maintain a facade for all her vulnerability. May every Aisha get an Aditi to fight the treacherous battle of life together with her like a rock.
If Aditi is the burning fire of the family, there is the ice calm Niren to perfectly balance her off. Here is an extremely matured and restrained husband and father, who doesn’t wear his masculinity up on his sleeve in spite of his conservative Chandni Chowk upbringing. He is happy to be the silent navigator of the family and yet ensure that he is giving in everything he has to keep Aisha and every hope around her afloat. He and his introverted self have their own way of dealing with grief, his vulnerability shows through his honesty. Niren is equally strong in silently working his butt off to arrange for the prohibitive medical expenditures for his child and let Aditi be the primary caregiver, as he is earnest sans any ego about not thinking twice to ask for charitable help towards the same cause. His easygoing charm works as much wonder on Aditi and Aisha, as it does its magic on us. May every Aditi get a Niren who can be the wind behind the sails of the ship that she is desperately trying to steer towards safer shores. Together they sink or stay afloat, and their deep understanding for each other gives them all the strength to together face the worst of storms in the never ending rough seas of life. Hence it is only natural to feel terribly for both of them as we see their no holds barred raw outburst of frustration blaming each other as they deal with the devastation of their child’s death in their own ways. They have suddenly lost their purpose of life and they can only open up on that helplessness to each other.
And then there is the Sun and the Moon of Aditi and Niren who are the guiding lights of their lives. There is Aisha, who knows from the very young age that she is the sole reason of sorrow for her parents, for them to give up on their lives seeking her happiness and comfort; and hence she takes it upon herself to remain ever cheerful and bubbly on the surface to ensure whatever joy it can bring back for her family. Of course deep inside she wants to live desperately, but more than adding years to her life, she wants to add life to the years she has got with her Panda, Moose and Giraffe. She is the sparkling Sun who is staring at a perineal eclipse, and she knows none of her family knows how to deal with it, even when she wants to write the chapter of final goodbyes on a happy, upbeat note. Giving her constant company is the calm and glowing Moon of the family – her elder brother Ishaan, who has only grown up in the shadow of her illness, his soothing light hence often getting neglected, but his empathy and compassion for his kid sister never taking a back seat for a moment. It is hence genuinely heartwarming when you see Aisha reaching out to a distant him to share her fear of death for the first time, and Ishaan also shouting out to his helplessness in his solitude in a rare vulnerable moment.
When life gives us such interesting and earnest characters, it only takes a case of terrific casting to portray the emotions with equitable honesty to make it so relatable. And Shonali Bose scores a perfect ten out there. There couldn’t have been a better choice than Farhan Akhtar and Priyanka Chopra to play the central leads of the film. The strength of their craft lends a well rounded character arc for Niren and Aditi over the extended period of two decades. Their performances beautifully feed off each other at each stage of their lives, and their natural charisma easily blends into an elitist but never out of place charm as the Chaudharys progress through their years and social stature. It could have easily slipped into sheer superficial gloss with lesser performers, but Chopra and Akhtar lend a solid restrained class to their struggle and their suffering, and even ensure that their early life romance feels beautifully integrated to their growth arcs. Farhan Akhtar is the clear show stealer with a brilliantly sensitive restrained act, he speaks a whole lot through his poised eyes tugging deep at the heart strings, and his Niren is most likely going to age beautifully into his career best performance to date. Priyanka Chopra tries to match him note by note and there couldn’t have been a better comeback for her to hindi films after three long years. The film’s trailer honestly doesn’t do justice to how sensitively she eventually delivers so many layers and shades of Aditi, and had she been able to completely shed off her vanity like Akhtar did, it would have been a complete picture perfect performance.
In fact the trailer doesn’t do much justice to Zaira Wasim‘s Aisha as well. This is most certainly her most effortless performance, and while I would have been happier if her voice over to anchor the entire film was more mellowed down and sparse, Shonali Bose possibly kept it the way it was to ensure a more cheerful treatment for such a gloomy premise and also to smoothen the non linear storytelling for easier grasp (Personally felt that the non linear format was a masterstroke by Bose to add some spunk to the otherwise predictable narrative). But other than the voice over, Wasim seamlessly brings forward all the chirp, agony, hope and hopelessness that Aisha stands for with charming ease. She makes you so invested in the way she wants to celebrate her limited life, that when she wants to celebrate her death with the same resounding trumpet joy, it only amplifies the impact of the moment with surprising tenderness (one of the smartest use of a sparse but refreshing background score by Mikey McCleary in an emotional film in a long time). It will be a real loss if we don’t see more of Wasim on screen in the future. Hopefully there is no such reason of worry for Rohit Saraf who shoulders the weight of the fourth pillar of quartet with equal effectiveness as the other three more accomplished stars, and needs to be cast far more frequently. He shines in his limited space and there are moments where you want to hug him more tightly than how Aditi and Niren would have ever hugged Ishaan in his life.
Thank you Shonali Bose and team for such a tender, sensitive and genuinely moving film. Together, you have just delivered one of most heartfelt experiences at the cinemas this year. Your film is so aesthetically pleasing and so emotionally touching at the same time simply because your entire technical team has collaborated so well to further accentuate the overall emotional feel of the film, while shining in their own individual spaces. A big shout out to Kartik Vijay and Nick Cooke (cinematography, especially for capturing the deeply personal emotions of the family up close, also a special shout out for perfectly capturing the innocence of the little baby who played the very young Aisha and getting us instantly glued to her), Aradhana Seth (Production Design, brilliant job in creating the changing ecosystem of the societal progression of the Chaudharys, especially the cramped and rusty spaces of their struggles early on), Eka Lakhani, Lucy Clements, Nikita Kapoor (Costume and Makeup, capturing the class as well as the subtle but distinct progression of all the leads over the years, right till Aditi’s dark circles, or Niren’s wrinkles as life withers them) Pritam and Gulzar (Music, thankfully only retaining the two well integrated songs in the film) and the entire Production team of RSVP, Roy Kapur Films and Purple Pebble Pictures for standing behind such a beautiful story to be told with such integrity. Yes Manas Mittal‘s editing could have been sharper and the film is possibly 20 minutes too long in its current form, but I would honestly not know what to take out (other than one scene of Niren and Aditi’s wedding and the evening that follows) without tampering with the flow or the depth of emotions in offer.
It is very easy to go overboard on melodrama and make a complete tear jerker out of a film that starts with death and ends with the same. It can so easily get manipulative and cringeworthy in an attempt to forcefully extract emotions. It is far more difficult to blend in genuine moments of happiness and laughter together with choking moments of suffocation to that tragic journey and provide a much more wholesome experience. It takes much tighter control on writing and execution to ensure that your story never gives up on its quest for life, and feels completely organic in its positive tonality even while the gloomy shadow of death constantly looms over. It takes one’s own experiences of life to appreciate this approach and rise above the judgement of facing pain in only one given way. After all there is no right or wrong pattern to face it, and the colour of grief is very very personal. As is the colour of sky approaching a storm or gone past it. For the eternally hopeful and the free spirited bravehearts like Shonali Bose or the Chaudharys, the sky is pink.