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The Sky is Pink

Rating: 2.5

October 11, 2019

Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Priyanka Chopra, Zaira Wasim, Rohit Saraf

Director: Shonali Bose

There’s a scene in The Sky is Pink, in which a married couple who’ve recently lost their teenage daughter, get into an argument in the restroom of a fancy restaurant where they’re dining with friends. The argument is triggered by a thoughtless remark from one of the friends, but it quickly escalates into a back and forth of scathing accusations and guilt-tripping between the couple. The exchange is ugly and hard to watch; it’s evident that both parents are still hurting and need to blame someone – anyone – for their inconsolable loss.

Is there any greater pain than the one brought on by the death of one’s child? It’s one of the key questions raised in this film, which tells the true story of Aditi and Niren Chaudhury (played by Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar), and their daughter Aisha (Zaira Wasim) who died at the age of 18 from the side-effects of her treatment for SCID, a rare genetic disorder that she battled throughout her short life.

Making a film about death – especially the imminent death of a sick child – is a tricky thing. How do you do it in a way that isn’t cheap and exploitative? How do you deliver an emotional wallop without being overtly manipulative? How do you do it in a way that doesn’t make the viewer cringe from feeling like a voyeur taking in another person’s misery? The truth is that there are no perfect answers, only choices that a filmmaker can make. Shonali Bose, who has directed the film and co-written it with Nilesh Maniyar, avoids the cloying sentimentality of a full-blown Bollywood tragedy.

Instead she makes the shrewd decision to tell the story in flashback, with Aisha serving as narrator from the afterlife. Aisha makes jokes about her parents’ sex life, blaming herself for the fact that they may not have had one for the longest time. She gives her family nicknames. Her father is Panda, her mother is Moose, her brother Ishaan is Giraffe. It’s all meant to be cute and hip, and it is…until it becomes tiring.

Crucially, we learn how Aditi and Niren put their own lives on hold so they could pursue the best possible options for their daughter. We watch as they spent years living apart so they could focus respectively on caregiving and breadwinning. We watch as her elder brother Ishaan (Rohit Saraf) dealt with being the neglected sibling, and the extraordinary lengths the family went to, so they could give her a happy life – holidays, puppies, even setting her up with a crush.

A lot of it is genuinely moving, but you can’t help feeling like you’re watching a sanitised version of the story. Sickness and death are complicated and ugly and messy, and there’s a reason that argument scene in the restroom felt so real and honest – because it revealed how perfectly nice people could become cruel and selfish in the wake of such unmentionable tragedy. It’s a pity the film doesn’t go to those dark places more often.

There is also the problem of the film indulging its stars at the expense of its story. Did we really need so much screen time committed to Aditi and Niren’s cute pre-marriage romance? At two-and-a-half hours The Sky is Pink feels bloated with unnecessary scenes that have little impact on the main story. I don’t want to be the guy that complains about Priyanka Chopra’s perfect hair and make up even when she’s moving mountains to save her child, but I’d be lying if I said that vanity doesn’t distract from her otherwise affecting performance.

Priyanka attacks her role with the ferocity it requires; a mother who swoops in routinely to protect, to care, to heal, to nurture. Zaira Wasim is lovely too, delivering a mature, natural performance that belies her young age. But Farhan Akhtar’s vulnerable portrayal of Niren digs deeper. A wordless scene in which he enters his son’s room not long after Aisha’s passing, and the two men break down, united in their grief, had me fighting back tears.

And that’s true of the film too. Despite the blatant manipulation, there are moments that left me with a heavy heart, and with a lump lodged in my throat. Still, watching a child’s life cut short should hurt like your heart’s being carved out of your flesh. The Sky is Pink never bruises you with that intensity.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

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