The Sky is Pink, directed by Shonali Bose, tells the story of a family through its youngest member, Aisha. When we first hear her – via a voiceover – she’s not yet born. This device, well aware of the charms of magic realism, is fitting and poignant for a story like this because, as Aisha tells us soon, she’ll die young. Most movies tackle death with the heaviness of a hammer, the finality of a destination; Bose treats it with the flippant nonchalance of a teenager, like an incidental milestone.
Aisha’s (Zaira Wasim) family comprises a father, Niren (Farhan Akhtar), a mother, Aditi (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) – she calls them “Panda” and “Moose” – and her elder brother, Ishaan (Rohit Suresh Saraf), “Giraffe”. She is absent for the large portion of the movie’s first half but her voice, ebullient and relatable, keeps us hooked right from the start.
Besides, a kid commenting on her parent’s love and sex life, in addition to discussing her own screw-ups, lifts the inherent pall of gloom hanging over such a film – it sets you free. As if Aisha seems to be telling us, “Save your precious pity for someone else. Let’s bond over a few jokes instead.” Nothing is so sacred here that it can’t be seen through the nudging, winking ways of humour: not even death.
Even though Aisha is the film’s centrepiece, Bose is smart enough to alternate between her and another important story: of Moose and Panda, Niren and Aditi – parents who were once partners. The film opens in Delhi in 2015, but soon cuts to a London suburb, Southall, in 1995, where Niren and Aditi are getting Aisha treated. She’s suffering from pulmonary fibrosis, a genetic disorder that killed their first child, Tanya, five months before her first birthday.
In some scenes, The Sky is Pink goes further back, to 1985, when a bashful Niren, hailing from Chandni Chowk, fell for a flamboyant south Delhi girl. These portions – replete with unique rhythms and mini-narratives – function as distinct chapters and yet coalesce into a seamless whole.
That is primarily so because Bose has a perceptive eye for detail, ensuring to root even the smallest of scenes, and a willingness to probe the obvious. A shot of a Southall street, for example, has Indian aunties dressed in salwar suits, standing near a chaat stall – a succinct way to state that the suburb is home to numerous Indian immigrants. Many Bollywood films, for quite some time, have used an Arijit Singh song without much imagination or thought. But in The Sky is Pink, we get the wonderful Dil Hi Toh Hai – a song from Aditi and Niren’s dating days – picturised on a Chandni Chowk rooftop, where their gamboling is interrupted by prying neighbours, turning Niren red faced.
In a later scene, Aditi sprays clean the top of Tanya’s grave – a reminder of her and Aisha’s medical condition, which made them sensitive to dirt – as if she’s still breathing beneath that marble slab. These examples tell us that The Sky is Pink is ready to sweat where most films are hesitant to walk.
Bose looks as sure-footed while dealing with intense dramatic material. As Aisha grows up, and the family moves to Delhi (thinking everything is normal), her condition starts to deteriorate, and the uncomfortable questions begin to pile. What is better: buying 10 more years through an operation that will keep her in a vegetative state or letting her die early but naturally – joyously? Who ‘owns’ a child: the mother or the father? How should you remember your deceased child: is a fitting tribute even possible? How should one… Aisha was 18, no amount of questions will feel enough.
The Sky is Pink also highlights a vital point about grieving – in essence, all dysfunctional – families: that grief doesn’t bring its members together; it further tears them apart. What does that say about happy families then? Jonas and Akhtar essay such anxieties and fear – besides portraying joys and tomfoolery in happier times – with immensely identifiable preciseness (helped to a great extent by sharp dialogues), implying that this could have happened to any one of us.
But The Sky is Pink’s real star – its conscience, heartbeat and soul – is Wasim who, in her third film, performs with the felicity of a veteran. (The parallels between Wasim’s career and Aisha Chaudhary’s life (the teenager who inspired this film) are ironic and unfortunate: Wasim, at the age of 18, retired from acting.)
The Sky is Pink leaves us with a feeling that is hard to shake: that the most difficult part about life is not that it is sad or pitiful; rather, it is wondrous and joyous – even when all the evidence points to the contrary. If you’ve ever been in a dark room for a sufficiently long time, you’d have noticed that darkness provides its own light. Happiness is, after all, inevitable – you can run but you can’t hide.