The Sky is Pink Movie Review: More than anything else, the film is about love that endures

The film is nothing if not a testament to the power of love in the face of life…or rather, death.

The Sky is Pink: A story about life, love and everything else in between…and after
Image Credit: Google

Director: Shonali Bose

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

From the time Priyanka Chopra-starrer Mary Kom (2014) graced the screens, biopics haven’t stopped raining in Bollywood. Cinematically presenting a living human’s extraordinary life has been quite the norm. But with Shonali Bose directed The Sky is Pink cine-goers have now been treated to a slice-of-the-life film – narrated by a protagonist (Aisha Chaudhary played by Zaira Wasim) who’s at the heart and soul of it, but no longer there to see what becomes of her story.

To top it all – there are ample opportunities to giggle, raise our eyebrows at a naughty schoolgirl discussing the ins and outs of her parents’ sex life from the afterlife, and feel her ‘teen angst’ over unrequited love as much as the actual, physical limitations she was born, and then had to die with.

Because that is how the makers likely intended the audience to feel – there is life, and there is death, but there’s so much to cherish before and after death. Aisha suffered from a rare genetic disorder called Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease (SCID) throughout her life – a crucial aspect that the makers have been careful in portraying without going overboard with the tragedy inherent in this condition. One can see that the film is painted with broad strokes of hope and joy, rather than the predictable terrain such a subject could involuntarily veer into.  

Perhaps, Aisha saw her life as magic and the filmmakers found no reason to infuse cloying sentimentality and deliberate sobriety in a human story that, as we see it today, is far greater than the sum of its parts.

Niren (Farhan Akhtar) and Aditi (Priyanka Chopra) make you chuckle at numerous points in the film – their days of falling in love and being carefree, their conversations around unprotected sex, even the way they handle a marital squabble over Niren helping out some to-be-divorced woman – are all cute and genuinely enjoyable. But what truly takes your breath away is how the pair navigate the ugly, frightening parts – with resilience and blind faith. In whatever higher power had brought them to this stage, but most of all, in each other to see this through.

However, make no mistake. The unmistakable beauty in, and the poignant remnants of the Chaudhary family’s shared lives that the audience gets to experience in the film has been hard-won, crafted and built from the ground up with unflinching patience, an unwavering sense of duty, and astounding willpower but most of all, undying, unconditional love.

Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar are outstanding as Aditi and Niren

What begins with an oddly exciting yet tense moment surrounding Aisha’s conception almost twenty-three years ago swiftly turns into a financial and emotional roller-coaster – tearing the Chaudharys’ lives apart, yet making them just as stronger and indefatigable as a married couple. Their love endures moving to a foreign land without preparation, later travelling back and forth between India and London while trying to hold on to their marriage and working night and day shifts for Aisha’s treatment, even going without long stretches of no intimacy. A concerned look here, an understanding hug there – in the midst of cranky conversations when the pair do meet between beginning and ending the day – is all they can afford.

Farhan Akhtar has been consistently wowing us since his very first film, Rock On. Here too, he impresses us with his measured, yet affecting performance. It is however, Priyanka Chopra as Aditi, who towers over all other performances in The Sky is Pink, and stands out as the thread that holds the various elements of the film together. Chopra has indeed, come a long way as an actor. Nowhere is this more apparent than in her stoic silences when she is faced with the everyday reality of Aisha’s condition, or the fire in her eyes when she walks out of her plush London home like a boss owning her life, or the flicker of indignance that her husband should want her to not talk about their dead child.

There are two scenes in the film that particularly showcase the depth of the lead pair’s acting. Niren and Aditi somehow manage to come to terms with the doomed realization that Aisha would have to undergo bone marrow transplant to extend her life by a few years. But what shocks them more is that the transplant proves to be simply a precursor to a decade-long wait before the doctors could deem Aisha stable. A swath of cold air passes over Niren’s face when he gets hit by the fact that they would have to readjust their lives and careers yet again. By now, viewers would’ve lost count of the trips made between India and London.

The other scene that really gripped me is an altercation between Niren and Aditi in the restroom of an upscale restaurant after the latter storms out of the dining area, following a rather crude and insensitive remark from one of their friends. The couple, who’d just lost Aisha to pulmonary fibrosis, found themselves in a heated conversation about who was to be blamed. But of course, they knew the answers already. They were always fighting a losing battle from the start. Those few heart-rending moments have been brilliantly portrayed by Akhtar and Chopra, who help us have a glimpse into what the Chaudharys may have endured.

Especially Chopra, as Aditi, is magnificent in her role as a mother, but more than that a round-the-clock caregiver. You feel her strength breaking, her tired and empty soul, and yet her single-minded devotion to keep their child alive at any cost. Underneath this crushing responsibility lies the regret that she has not really been there for her elder child, Ishaan (Rohit Saraf). The fact that she may have inadvertently neglected him, haunts her as well.

Being split into hopeful, cynical and guilty bits of yourself is never easy, Chopra essays that with the strokes of an experienced actor who knows the value of underplaying a certain character. The aftermath of death is an impossible grief that refuses to let go, The Sky is Pink, even amidst its light moments never fails to impress upon the audience of the crude reality.

All is not gloom and doom though. There are heart-warming moments between Aisha and her brother Ishaan, who she fondly calls Giraffe. So are her conversations with Niren and Aditi who are Panda and Moose for her, not regular Dad and Mom. It does come across as self-indulgent at times, but what is a teen girl if not childlike?

Amidst everything else, the Chaudharys made sure they kept the fun alive!

Viewers might find it disconcerting that a lot of Aisha’s pain and struggles have been brushed under the carpet, or that, most of the movie is about the Chaudharys’ navigating their child’s condition and doing everything in their power to keep her alive – rather than the actual pain of living with such a condition. However, given that the film has been narrated by Aisha, who was in her teens when she passed away, it is understandable why the film is equal parts heart-breaking and equal parts hopeful. Seen from her perspective, her life was every bit a miracle and she chooses to retain nothing but the good parts – regardless of the other world she’s in now.

My only grouse with the movie is that the film did not emphasize enough on Aisha’s book-writing journey (she wrote a book titled “My Little Epiphanies” ). We are never made aware of how the idea of writing a book germinated in her mind or what compelled her to see the beauty in her life. We are merely allowed a cursory glance at these crucial aspects of her life – towards the end of her time on earth, the very things that made her a global icon. Her inner life is never sufficiently probed.

Despite its flaws, The Sky is Pink is still worth a watch, simply because it touches upon the subject of life and death, and life after death using a featherweight approach. You dive deep enough to ponder the meaning of it all, but come out alive just in time to realize – there is nothing, if not beauty, in the moments that try your spirit as a human. It is bittersweet, hopeful even – once you gather the courage to begin at the end. Again. Like Niren and Aditi did.

My rating: 3.5/5

Fukrey Returns: Makes you wonder why these Fukrey ever returned

One more time, the boys of the Fukrey gang are up to no good. But the reasons that compel them on to this straggly adventure may not be as relatable this time around.

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June 2013 was a jarringly tumultuous time in my life.

My career was in shambles, my relationships more so. Especially my love life – that was teetering on the edges of insanity and was begging for some fresh air, less fear, some cheer.

That’s when Fukrey happened; I distinctly remember having gone to watch this movie with my then-boyfriend since it was our #relationship monthversary (yeah, go on laugh). I remember both of us having laughed our guts out, and leaving the theater with lighter heads and heavier love for each other. Not that my career dived into a positive spin, but  hell yeah, all the humor and silliness did rub off on my then-floundering relationship.

Fast forward to December 2017.

I am married to the same man, and this time around too we were squabbling over something inconsequential when we decided to go watch this movie, because hey, filmy love binds us like no other.

However, we were in for a squirmy, uncomfortable shock because nothing about Fukrey Returns was the same anymore. Now, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t expecting the sequel to be a caricature of its much-famed predecessor, but neither was I expecting these four twats to go around zoos and caves like they were on a regular visit to the mall, and dealing with the lady don (read: Bholi Punjaban) with the collective IQ of a bunch of four-year olds.

The audience breaking into uncomfortable, overdone, needlessly boisterous laughs even in the absence of anything remotely funny confirms what I felt all along – Fukrey Returns tries too hard, and you only throw in some giggles here and there coz you’re a loyalist. Now that’s a certified recipe for disaster for a movie claiming to be a comedy.

The setup is the same here: Bholi Punjaban (Richa Chadda) manages to get out of Tihar jail using her political connections and is now back in her element to make lives hell for these Fukreys, who, except for Zafar (Ali Fazal) are leading disappointingly morbid lives. Still in the lottery business, Choocha (Varun Sharma) and Hunny (Pulkit Samrat) continue to mint easy money on the strength of Choocha’s weirdly disconnected dreams and the latter’s weirder interpretation methods. Lali (Manjot Singh) who isn’t quite content on just having secured his entry to the college of his dreams a year ago now resents his father’s halwai business and is keen on setting up a coffee shop instead. Zafar seems to have crossed over the dangerous hurdles in his relationship with Neetu (Vishakha Singh) and is now on the verge on moving in with her, into their dream home.

All looks well, till political baddie Babulal Bhatia (Rajiv Gupta) steps in with meaty stakes for rescuing Bholi from the roach-infested living premises of the prison, something the Punjaban lady don is willing to do anything to not cave in to. And so she greets the four idiots in the unlikeliest of places and has them kidnapped and bound like cattle, declaring revenge by asking them to step up and prove their usefulness, or else perish. To save their sore arses and their lives, they’ve now got to do her bidding – one thing leads to another and before they realize it, they are sucked into the familiar vortex of hatching get-rick-quick schemes and dangerous bets, eventually rubbing local politician Babulal Bhatia (Rajiv Gupta) the wrong way and paying for it by dumping themselves in the stench-filled Yamuna.

A snake metamorphosing into Bholi who comically appears in a glittery naagin costume (remember Sridevi from Nagina (1986)?), an angry tigress and her cub, a Ponzi scheme that has hapless investors pushing the Fukreys to go take a plunge in the savage waters of the Yamuna pretending to be dead, Babulal Bhatia raking up his dark side in running shady lottery business and a couple more sins, political speeches and dirty agendas, and a long drawn yawn-inducing adventure leading up to the cave (from Choocha’s dream sequence) and beyond, is essentially what the sequel is made of.

Choocha’s dreams are more scattered and harebrained now, and that’s okay, but it looks like the climax was written first and then the chidiyaghar dream added as an afterthought to fit the narrative, which frankly, lacks any sense of urgency like the prequel did. And while Choocha now has to grapple with a new gift and dabble in the business of premonitions, which admittedly he does quite fervently, Hunny lacks the spontaneity and desperation he displayed in Fukrey and looks kinda bored throughout the movie.

But then this is probably why Fukrey Returns doesn’t stir up much in your belly because the entire plot looks contrived, from start to finish.

For one, Fukrey was a refreshingly put-together movie, with four protagonists at the helm with ‘issues’ or rather ‘problems’ typical to the bracket of youngsters falling between age 17-25.

Boys wanting to secure admissions in elite colleges because they want to have girls hanging at their arms and live the good life isn’t unheard of, and neither is a struggling musician desperately looking for funds for his father’s treatment an anomaly. Bundle these relatable desires and concerns with jugaad gifts like making money out of having dreams, and you have a sleek potboiler to be cherished over a tub of popcorn and full-throated laughs!

The nuances in Fukrey, be it in the way Lali develops the much-hyped crush over tutor Neetu, Hunny wooing Priya (Priya Anand) and then genuinely falling for her, Neetu confronting Zafar and presenting him with some hard life choices, were all elements that added to the overall grain of the story. No surprise elements here like the thieving beggar from the first part who actually had tons of money on him and bailed the boys out in a stroke of luck (Ashraf-ul-Haq, bless your soul, you did a fantastic job even with that itsy-bitsy role!).

But the key moment that sets off Fukrey is the scene where Choocha is pressured and literally cornered into coming up with a dream (which he conveniently lies about), and the resulting blunder lands them all in a deadly mess. This seems to be missing in the sequel, and the characters largely look lost and disillusioned, less with their lives as protagonists of the movie but more as actors not knowing why they signed up for this half-baked project.

Neetu and Priya, who were more invested in the first part and their roles better integrated in Fukrey, seem to have disappeared after a few half-hearted appearances in the first few minutes of the sequel, only to reappear much later post intermission, making it look the director suddenly wanted to make good their payment for acting in this deluded vision.

Bholi Punjaban is less feisty and more gullible in Fukrey Returns, lacking the punch or the audacity she possessed in the first part. You definitely don’t shit your pants or break into a sweat with this Bholi around! The climax though, makes this change in behavior and her subsequent change-of-heart amply clear, as she pairs up with Choocha, fanning his more than a year-long romantic feelings for her as well as her now comparatively ‘cleaner’ ambitions of climbing the political ladder. Oh well, she even does  a group dance with the whole tormented Fukrey lot, even touching her mother-in-law’s feet in the end!

The only characters worth sitting up and noticing are Babulal Bhatia (Rajiv Gupta) and Pandjitji (Pankat Tripathi). Babulal with his menacing underhand moves and dirty agendas contrasts well with the occasional straight-faced humor (a trademark of Tripathi) sprinkled in by Pandjitji, who is more engaged in this misadventure than he was in the last, to our delight, as well as our chagrin, because we eventually see how this rare talent is wasted in the sequel.

Sequels generally are tricky grounds to tread on, and unless they have solid character growth to offer, much of the familiar setting of previous movie (s) and tropes can seem like a vacation gone stale long back. In fact, one of the best Bollywood sequels I have watched till date happens to be Tanu Weds Manu Returns, which frikkin’ not only won Kangana Ranaut a National award but stood up as a benchmark for filmmakers planning to go the sequel/franchise way. I dare say TWMR trumped the original by a mile and more, with predictable characters peeling off layers of their innate character traits in unpredictable, fresh circumstances.

Unfortunately, most sequels in Bollywood are barely a patch on the originals; and thus, in this vein, Fukrey Returns can literally be summed up as a labor of love – laborious, tedious, never-ending, considering there is nothing much to go on about for close to 2 and a half hours of screen time.

The only thing that may lend you solace is when the credits roll and you are introduced to a Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara kinda post-script where Zafar and Neetu are finally hitched, and Choocha (along with his lady love Bholi), Hunny and Lali seem to have thankfully found some purpose in life. An overdone song-and-dance sequence culminates in a picture of the four Fukreys sitting huddled up together on the beach, looking out at the sea, and probably thinking to themselves, ab bas ho gaya. Let’s move on shall we?

But that is also the only thing I could take away from the movie (both parts included) – their friendship and how they stuck together, irrespective of who failed the bets.

I hope that’s something you’ll take away too when you give the sequel a chance, but I also hope they return no more.

Rating: 2.5/5