Priyanka Chopra-starrer The Sky is Pink is one of the five Indian films premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which ends on 15 September.
In fact, director Shonali Bose’s movie is the only Asian film in the gala presentations section at TIFF this year.
Releasing worldwide on 11 October, including on 1,000 screens in India, the film also makes Bose the only Indian director to have all her (three) films launched at the world’s premier film festival.
The Sky is Pink brilliantly puts in cinematic context the poignant story of Delhi’s Chaudhary couple—Aditi (played by Priyanka) and Niren (played by Farhan Akhtar)—who make every sacrifice to prolong the life of their terminally-ill daughter Aisha (played by Zaira Wasim), spending all their life savings, moving to London and seeking help from the Indian expatriate community in the UK (which raises over 200,000 pounds).
Bose, who is in Toronto, says that the movie has a deeper personal meaning for her as she, too, had lost her young son a few years ago, followed by the end of her marriage.
In an interview with Guardian 20, she speaks about what attracted her to the story of the film and how she roped in Priyanka Chopra for the lead role.
Q. The Sky is Pink marks your hat-trick as a director at TIFF.
A. Yes, it is so thrilling that I cannot even explain it. We are also the only Asian film for gala presentation at TIFF this year. That’s a real honour. TIFF’s co-head, Cameron Bailey himself selected the film for the festival, and that makes it even more special.
Q. How did you manage to get Priyanka Chopra on board?
A. My producer, Siddharth Roy Kapur, loved the script. But he said he would produce the film only if we could get an A-list star; otherwise he won’t. I said fair enough, and we decided to try for a few months. I said my first choice for the role of Aditi Chaudhary would be Priyanka Chopra.
Siddharth contacted Priyanka’s manager, Reshma Shetty. We sent the script to her and she loved it. She called Priyanka to say that you must read it right now. Priyanka read it at one go at night and loved it. The next morning I got a text from Reshma, saying that I must fly to New York to meet Priyanka. From LA, I flew to NY and met Priyanka. She said she loved the script and said yes for the role.
Q. Was Farhan Akhtar also your first choice for the role of Niren in the film?
A. Yes. He is just brilliant. I was a bit nervous about directing him because he himself is a great director.
Q. How did you come to know about the Chaudhary family’s tragedy?
A. In January 2015, Aamir Khan released a trailer of my film, Margarita With a Straw,with his film PK in 2014. The girl Aisha (whose terminal illness is the focus of The Sky is Pink) was 18 years old at that time. She watched the trailer of my film 30 times and expressed her wish to see the film before she died. She was given only five years by the doctors to live. So when she expressed her wish to watch the film, she was about to complete that span of five years. She died two weeks later after the trailer’s launch. So she passed away without seeing Margarita with a Straw, which was released in April 2015.
Her parents saw the film and found out at the end that it was dedicated to the memory of my son Ishan.
The Chaudhary couple contacted me in LA through a common friend and emailed me to say that it was their daughter’s dying wish to see my film. They asked me if I could make a film about their daughter. I said let me hear the whole story.
I met them in Delhi in December 2015 to hear their whole story. I told them that if I make a film, it will be about the two of you, not Aisha. I told them I am interested only in the love story of the two of you—your relationship and how it survived the loss of a child.
Q. So, in a way, this film is autobiographical for you and Priyanka, who lost her father in 2013?
A. It is not autobiographical for Priyanka. But she said making this film was cathartic for her because she had not learnt to heal from her father’s death. She was very close to her father and filming The Sky is Pinkwas very salutary for her emotionally.
For me, this film is very much autobiographical in the sense that even though the events are not the same but all the emotions are from my life, my feelings and my son’s death. So when I started writing the script of this film, I was at a place of extreme peace with my son’s death. There was no wound or hurt or mourning. So this film is very much about my feelings.
Q. Like your two previous films—Amuand Margarita With a Straw—which premiered at Toronto, this film is also female-centric and is made from a woman’s point of view. Why do you make only women-centric movies?
A. Amu(2005) was about the 1984 genocide. I could have made it from a boy’s point of view. But I chose to make it from the female point of view. The same goes for Margarita With a Straw (2015), which I could have made from a boy’s point of view.
As a woman filmmaker, if I have a choice between a boy and a girl, I will always choose a girl’s viewpoint if it doesn’t affect the story.
Q. Where was the film shot and how long did it take?
A. It was shot in Delhi, Mumbai, London and the Andaman Islands.
Just like my two previous films, The Sky is Pink also took 40-42 days to shoot. The previous films were shot at a stretch, but in this case, 42 days were spread over a year because Priyanka got married during this span.
Starting in 2018, we shot for five days in August, 10 days in September, four days in October and 14 days in November. After Priyanka returned from her honeymoon, we shot for five days in March this year and five days in June.
Q. How are you preparing for its release in October?
A. We are releasing it worldwide on 11 October—across India, the US, Canada, England, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. In India, we will have a 1,000-screen release. It is a big leap for me, because my first film, Amu, was released on only four screens and Margarita With a Strawwas released on 250 screens in India.