Mom: “Why are you crying?”
Son: The teacher scolded me in class.
Son: Because I colored the sky pink. She told me it’s blue, not pink. Change it to blue.
Mom (after a short pause): Make the sky whichever color you want to. If your sky is pink, make it pink. Don’t let anyone tell you what color your sky should be.
This is one of the powerful opening scenes that lends this heartfelt film its title. The Sky is Pink is based on a true story about young Aisha (Zaira Wasim), who is suffering from severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), a rare genetic disorder in which the body has no immunity to fight any kind of external infection. Most persons born with such a medical condition have almost no hope to live. With no proper cure for the disease in India in the 1980s, the girl’s parents, Aditi (Priyanka Chopra) and Niren (Farhan Akhtar), decide to go from their home in old Delhi to London for her treatment. Through a desi radio show in London, they manage to procure funds from kind listeners to help operate the girl, as a result of which her life is extended by a few years.
A biopic is a great way to bring awareness about an issue or retell an important story, which would otherwise have remained unknown, unnoticed, or forgotten amid the pacing annals of time. The film’s director, Los Angeles based Shonali Bose, has dealt with the subject of maladies earlier as well—most recently with her 2014 romantic drama Margarita with a Straw, about a teenager with cerebral palsy, based on the life of her disability-rights-activist cousin Malini Chib. In that sense, the theme seems a little repetitive. However, while The Sky… feels more mainstream Bollywood than her previous film (with a bigger star cast and shoot locations that move seamlessly between old havelis of Chandni Chowk to metropolitan London and posh farmhouses of Chattarpur), it’s equally sensitive in its treatment. Bose’s inspiration to make the film was the crumbling of her marriage that happened after she lost her own 16 year old son, Ishan. Bose said in an interview that Ayesha’s real-life parents, Niren and Aditi Chaudhary, asked her to make a film on their daughter after she died, and added that it was Ayesha’s dying wish to watch Margarita with a Straw.
Through strong performances by the lead pair, the film manages to capture well the angst and frustration of the parents who are perpetually struggling to keep their daughter alive, while trying to earn a livelihood to pay for all her expensive medications. In one scene, Aditi has an anxiety attack as she is unable to sleep for days—which seems very real for someone who is faced with such a stressful situation. Added to this, is the brave front they have to constantly put up in front of their children to always keep them cheerful and optimistic.
The Sky… is a ‘comeback film’ of sorts for PC, who returns to Bollywood after a hiatus of three years, during which she went through several significant life events, such as working on the international TV show Quantico, starring in Hollywood films, and getting married. The collective experiences seem to have lent maturity to her acting, and she plays the role of a mother to two teenagers convincingly well. Dangal girl, Zaira Wasim, too delivers a power-packed performance as the ailing Aisha, who despite her illness, is just like any other girl her age—nursing heartbreak, falling in love and wanting to live. It’s sad that the talented actor recently decided to quit acting, making this her last film—and giving audiences another reason to watch it.
Here’s what I thought The Sky… missed. The film fails to address the larger issue of the complexity of the family’s situation getting further complicated had the socioeconomic indicators differed. In this case, the family had some financial issues in the beginning. But with the support of donations and the privileges of education and property, they surmount the financial challenges through career progression. What do families with no financial means do under such circumstances? Does society or the government support them in the eventual choice they make? Unlike western economies, the Indian state does not provide any long-term financial assistance or support to such persons.
Nevertheless, even when they know that time is running out for their daughter, they hope against hope (as any parent would), and decide to make all her dreams true—whether it’s in the form of holidays, pets, or crushes—in the short lifespan that she has left. The bittersweet takeaway is loud and clear. Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
THE SKY IS PINK. 2019. Director: Shonali Bose. Screenplay: Shonali Bose, Juhi Chaturvedi. Players: Priyanka Chopra, Farhan Akhtar, Zaira Wasim. Hindi and English. Distributed by RSVP Movies, Roy Kapur Films and Purple Pebble Pictures.
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in New Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. You can read all her published work on www.nehakirpal.wordpress.com.
This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.
Photo credit: The Sky is Pink facebook page.