“The Sky is Pink”… A tastefully made weepie that’s cheerier than the downbeat material would have you think

Posted on November 12, 2019

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The colour palette is the kind you’d find in a catalogue, among choices like “aqua” and “ecru”.) The director’s success is that all this “good taste” doesn’t come in the way of feeling for the characters.

Spoilers ahead…

Shonali Bose’s The Sky is Pink opens after the death of Aisha Chaudhary (played by Zaira Wasim), a real-life motivational speaker diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. Her parents — Aditi (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), Niren (Farhan Akhtar) — wake up at night. Aditi wanders into Aisha’s room, and cuddles up with Aisha’s dog. Niren walks up to the same room, but is stopped by an invisible force field made of grief, guilt, and a number of the things experienced by men who feel they haven’t done as much as their wives. Or maybe he’s just in denial. Whatever it is, he looks at Aditi inside the room he cannot enter and he walks away. This is the present day. Niren is ready to close a chapter. Aditi wants to keep re-reading a page. Will they get past the sadness and have a happy ending?

The Sky is Pink, however, is a very happy movie, as happy a movie as can be moulded out of interminable sadness. Aisha is the narrator from beyond the grave. She is a cheery narrator. It makes sense. She is finally free of the oxygen tanks and hospital visits and tests and everything that was weighing down her youth. The director, if anything, is even cheerier. Imagine a situation where Aditi and Niren fly to London for a bone marrow transplant for their little girl and find out how much it costs. Instead of screams and tears from the couple, we get this line from Aisha: “Mushkil se London jaane ke paise jama hue the. Yahan aake pata chala ki chand par jaane ke paise jama karna hai.” The translation will probably kill it, but it’s a line with wry humour. And what happens, soon after, is a Christmas miracle right out of a Frank Capra drama.

And what about the scene where Niren learns that his son (Ishaan, played as an adult by Rohit Suresh Saraf) may not be his son after all? It’s a “did my wife cheat on me?” moment. It plays like a Friends moment. Or the scene where Aditi finds refuge in Christianity? We don’t see arguments, doubts. We just see the ceremony she goes through. Even when Aditi has an acute psychotic breakdown from the stress of caring for Aisha and is admitted to a hospital, the writing  — which goes back and forth in time, and is by Shonali Bose, Juhi Chaturvedi, Nilesh Maniyar — bounces back with a joke about how Aditi’s absence makes Aisha more productive. The story is a downer. The film isn’t.

There’s no phlegm or blood or vomit. There’s an appealingly tasteful middle-classness — and later, after Niren and Aditi become rich, there’s an appealingly tasteful upper-classness. (The colour palette is the kind you’d find in a catalogue, among choices like “aqua” and “ecru”.) The director’s success is that all this “good taste” doesn’t come in the way of feeling for Aditi. “Mujhe Aisha ke alava kisi aur ke liye kuch karna aata hi nahin,” she says. (I don’t know how to do anything for anyone else but Aisha.) It’s a piercing line. Aditi has given herself over to Aisha to such an extent that when Aisha dies, she cannot deal with the huge absence in front of her. Or rather, she deals with it by making this absence a continuing presence. After all, it’s just Aisha’s body that’s dead. Her soul or aura or whatever is still around. At least, that’s what Aditi says.

Priyanka sells the sadness (and the underlying humour) brilliantly, but the character — she even knows where extra oxygen masks are kept  on a plane — could have used a little more craziness. I kept thinking of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Mili and Anand on the one hand (upbeat weepies, both), and James L Brooks’s Terms of Endearment on the other. In the latter, Shirley MacLaine plays someone like Aditi, a mother obsessed with her daughter, especially when the latter is diagnosed with a fatal illness. She cooks the character with just the right amount of kookiness, so it’s not just pure and undying maternal love. That’s why the scene where Aditi attempts to strangle Niren works so well. It’s like a wardrobe malfunction during fashion week. You feel bad for the model, but there’s suddenly some electricity in the air, crackling through the genteel goings-on. You sit up with a What!

Where does the title come from? As a child, Ishaan colours the sky pink and is reprimanded by his teacher. (Hasn’t the woman heard of a sunset?) Aditi tells him there’s no need to change it. It’s a shaky metaphor, but it fits. If pink is not the “normal” colour for a sky, this is not a “normal” family either. Hell, Aisha calls her parents Moose and Panda. It sounds like Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale, which stood for the parents there. But that film was a cactus farm. This one’s a basketful of kittens. Zaira Wasim even looks like one.

The metaphor also suggests a sense of being closed-off. Aditi could be saying: The rest of you guys may live under a blue sky, but we are happy in our pink-sky world. Accordingly, the rest of the world is almost absent. There are, to be sure, grandparents and maybe-boyfriends and the house help, but these characters are like salt and pepper. The main course is Aditi, Niren, Aisha, Ishaan. And how could it be otherwise? Aisha may have a breathing condition, but she’s sucking up all the oxygen in the room.

This claustrophobic cosiness is something I slowly warmed up to. The gangly Rohit Suresh Saraf has a goofy laidback-ness that makes you see why Ishaan isn’t upset that everyone’s attention is always on Aisha. The backslapping brother-sister relationship is terrific, and there are lovely, lump-in-the-throat scenes like the one where Ishaan consoles Aisha when she’s down. Is it manipulative? Sure! But the “I went scuba diving and my world changed after seeing a striped fish” scene here plays much better than it did in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Maybe it’s because the epiphany sits better on a teenage girl who hasn’t got much time left.

The manipulation comes with a side of dignity. Mikey McCleary’s music, for instance, uses quirky instruments like the accordion and perfectly conjures up the movie’s mood: bittersweet, but not too bitter, and more on the sweet side. (Pritam’s songs, though, seem both unmemorable and wasted.) Can there be such a thing as too much dignity? I wanted Niren’s speech, post Aisha’s death, to wallop me like Anand’s cry of “Babumoshai” after he dies. But Farhan acquits himself well (even if he’s really the last actor who comes to mind when the character is supposed to be made of “Chandni Chowk ki mitti“) He’s always been good with the light stuff. Watch his face when he sees a boy making himself too comfortable around Aisha. But also watch his face during a Mexican standoff with Aditi in a hospital. He says he wants a lung transplant for Aisha. But Aditi argues against it. As she begins to explain why, the camera freezes on Niren’s face as Farhan turns the knob through all the stations from defiant to unsure. His prickly performance elevates this material, which could have ended up maudlin or twee. The kittens are adorable but the cactus makes you wince.

Copyright ©2019 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi