What do you do if your daughter is diagnosed with a rare disorder and is almost certainly going to die?
This is the question at the core of The Sky Is Pink, directed by Shonali Bose (Amu & Margarita With A Straw) and based on the true story of Aisha Chaudhary, a girl from Delhi who was born with SCID (Severe Combined Immuno Deficiency). She underwent a bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy as a baby, and years later, developed pulmonary fibrosis as a side effect of the chemo. She became a well-known motivational speaker and authored a book in her last months. She died in 2015, at 18, just a day before her book was released.
By any standards, this plot makes for a tearjerker. And in many parts, it is. But Bose, employing a lightness of touch, tells the story of Aisha Chaudhary in a manner that is anything but sad. Using peppy music, fun fonts and a humour that we don’t often see in Hindi family-medical dramas, Bose creates a fable that goes far beyond this one person’s life.
We know right from the start that she is going to die, so the challenge, then, is to tell a story that still keeps the audience invested. Using Aisha herself as the narrator who takes us back and forth between the 1980s and 2015 was a gamble, but one that pays off here.
Zaira Wasim plays Aisha, daughter of Moose and Panda and younger sister of Giraffe. That is Aditi (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), Niren (Farhan Akhtar) and Ishaan (Rohit Saraf). The nicknames are just one example of the fun and sweetness that the movie is infused with. Aisha knows all about her condition — her parents, particularly Moose, don’t believe in hiding the truth from her — and the young girl grows up a tad precocious, sassing her parents and breaking the fourth wall to go into flashbacks and, among other things, discuss their sex life with us. But just when you think she’s on the brink of getting annoyingly cutesy, she reins it in and makes you feel like her friend. This is evidence of Wasim’s skills as an actor and Bose’s as a director, as well as Bose, Juhi Chaturvedi and Nilesh Maniyar’s controlled writing.
What’s also evident is the fact that while Aisha is the centre of the film, she is not the story. The story is how the Chaudhary family plays the hand that life has dealt them — the loss of their first daughter Tanya to SCID as a baby, their unplanned pregnancy after they got lucky with their son, deciding to have the baby, investing every last rupee in Aisha’s treatment, taking to the radio to collect donations for her prohibitively expensive surgery in London, trying a long-distance marriage for the sake of their children, working round the clock to provide for their children, moving back to Delhi for financial reasons — and managing to laugh while doing it.
Each new chapter in the Chaudharys’ lives comes with cinematography to match. From Chandni Chowk’s bustling bylanes to London’s grey tones to Delhi’s pool parties and farmhouses, cinematographers Kartik Vijay and Nick Cooke know exactly what they’re doing and why a shot needs to look a certain way to take the story forward.
And the soul of this story, undoubtedly, is Priyanka Chopra Jonas. Back in Hindi cinema after three years, she is in top form as Aditi or Moose, the tough-as-nails but soft-on-the-inside boss mom who will stop at nothing to save her daughter. She Googles incessantly, she chases doctors and argues with them, showing them her research, she takes tough decisions for the family, she tries to set Aisha up with the guy she has a crush on because she wants her to have a full life in the little time she has.
Moose is the doer, the alpha mom but without ever being overbearing or a caricature. Chopra Jonas digs deep into her reserves of talent and portrays Moose’s determination, her strength and her grief so well that she becomes Moose, whose whole life is devoted to her family, to the point where, months after Aisha’s death, she has no idea how to be anything except Aisha’s mother and primary caregiver. She is so good that it makes you forgive the layers and layers of unnecessary makeup (even when she is sleeping) and the fact that she never, despite all of these hardships and a story that spans decades, seems to age.
Niren or Panda, uncomfortable with confrontation and unable to say no, might be in charge at the office but knows perfectly well that Moose is his boss for life. And Akhtar, as the peace-loving family man who defers to his wife on most things but has enough of a spine to again, not become a caricature, strikes the right balance. The couple’s relationship is mined for comic relief but also plays out beautifully when things get worse and their marriage gets rocky.
The loss of one’s child is perhaps the most unfair, unnatural loss in the world – and it is one that Bose, who lost her own elder son when he was just 16, knows well. In this case, given that out of the 25 or so years of their marriage shown here, the Chaudharys spend 18 looking after Aisha, it’s a relief to see that while there is grief, raw and breaking, there is also a certain sense of inevitability, control and life going on – even in one as young as Ishaan. There’s a lovely scene in which Ishaan, who has gone off to study in London, talks to a bawling Aisha on the phone about how they’ll all still be family in their next lives as well – she should make sure she chooses their puppy’s life as hers.
The movie has many such gems that make you smile through your tears and cry even when you’re laughing. During an “emergency vacation”, Aisha’s parents and brother take her snorkelling, so that, even if only for a couple of minutes, she can see the wonders of the marine world. Aisha knows that this is a moment she will remember for the rest of her short life.
So then, what do you do if your daughter is diagnosed with a rare disorder and is almost certainly going to die? You make sure she has the best life you can possibly give her.