Ms Representation: A beautiful shade of pink
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author writes about the nuances in Priyanka Chopra's role from The Sky Is Pink
When you hear of a film being made about an 18-year-old motivational speaker who passed away, you don't expect her to not be the protagonist. The Sky Is Pink, Shonali Bose’s latest starring Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akthar, is one of those rare films that goes a step further and focus instead on the parents, and how the death of their child affects their marriage. Shonali calls it ‘the final chapter in a trilogy about the mother-child relationship and death' in one of her interviews. That spotlight we were talking about? It is firmly trained on Priyanka's Aditi Chaudary, the mother of Aisha Chaudary. And Aditi is easily one of the most fascinating screen characters in recent times.
You could argue that director Shonali Bose had real material to work with – she had in-depth discussions with the Chaudarys and Aditi herself. But there are other things, other trademark Shonali Bose things. For instance, it must have been tempting to label these characters by their most defining traits. Aditi could be ‘the mother’, Aisha, just ‘the terminally ill teenage girl’. What Shonali does though is simply use their main description as an outline that is filled in with lovely little details, voluminous flesh added around the bones. The characters then come alive, complete with their quirks and rough edges.
To describe Aditi the best, I am going to use a quote that is shown on Aisha’s grave: “I am fearless in being fearful.” It’s a perfect fit for both women. Aditi is fearless when it comes to protecting her daughter. She leaves no stone unturned. She researches Aisha’s SCID, a disorder that leaves you with no immunity, and also later, pulmonary fibrosis. She meticulously, almost robotically, cleans any object Aisha might come in contact with. Amid all the routine and caution, there is a streak of crazy there as well. Aditi and Aisha go shopping and the latter doesn’t find a piece of clothing she likes in her size. Aditi decides to take one off a mannequin, which is against store rules and without the staff’s knowledge. She micromanages sending her daughter on a date. But all of this is fuelled by the fear that Aditi has for her bachhi. Will the daughter leave this world even before she begins to live? This fear fuels Aditi’s every move.
In films like The Sky Is Pink, the mother is usually shown to be ‘perfect’. In this film though, we also see the toll it takes on her being. Aditi is the kind of mother who wears a vitals detector as a necklace, who knows where the oxygen cylinders are on an airplane. But where The Sky Is Pink steps away from the mainstream is when it shows her breaking down in the bathroom after Aisha’s death. She acknowledges that her life has been only about taking care of her daughter so far. Aditi battles mental health issues, faces a breakdown, but isn’t shamed for this. To have the baby, when the couple knew the numbers weren’t in their favour, was her decision. To not take the pill, was her decision. She decides to convert to Christianity when she loses her first child. And is supported by her husband (a beautiful performance from Farhan Akthar), a beautifully written character on its own; which I am not talking at length about, only because this column focuses on women. In any other tale, any other film, where such choices are not presented with such nuance, it would have raised questions. It’s all a bit like what Aditi tells her son, Ishaan: "The sky is any colour you want it to be. I have coloured my own sky and you can do it too. I love you, and your pink sky."
There was another film in the theatres this week that also spoke about unplanned pregnancies — Puppy, directed by Nattu Dev who credits himself as ‘Morattu Single’. While the film had a surprisingly respectable stance throughout (surprising because of the standards set by previous Tamil A-certified films), its commentary on premarital sex and unplanned pregnancy made me uncomfortable. The heroine, who is indecisive about taking the pill is told, “idha nee pannala na oore unna kaari thuppum, adhula naanum oruthan”, by the heroine’s friends. It’s a stronger form of “apdi enna avasaram unakku?” The stigma, for some reason, is solely borne by the woman, though there is another party responsible too. Thinking about this dialogue brings several questions to the fore. When society is a certain way, can cinema escape from reflecting that? Is it necessary or possible to be politically correct all the time? Where do you draw the line in such debates? Perhaps that is something we can talk about in the future here.