BY RENU MEHTA, TORONTO:
She came, they saw and she conquered! It was Priyanka Chopra dressed gloriously in a long white and black gown that had the crowds screaming her name at Roy Thomson Hall in down Toronto. They were all lined up the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) premier of the Shonali Bose film The Sky is Pink, waiting for hours for Chopra and Farhan Akhtar, renowned Indian actor, musician and poet, to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars.
An extremely emotional film, The Sky is Pink is the true story of a girl who is diagnosed with a terminal illness SCID (Severe Combined Immuno-Deficiency) and is recounted through the narration of Zaira Wasim who plays the 18-year-old Aisha Chaudhary, about her life and the love story of her parents spanning 25 years. Aisha had watched the trailer of Bose’s earlier film Margarita with a Straw 30 times and told her mother that she hoped she lived to see this film, but died two weeks later in January 2015 before the film’s release. Her parents Aditi and Niren Chaudhary saw the film when it was released in 2015, loved it and began a search to meet Bose.
“Seven months later Aditi managed to trace me in LA and reached out and asked if I would be interested and willing to make a film about their daughter,” says Bose who lost her own 16-year -old son Ishan who had passed in 2010. “I listened to their story. It had been a year since I had finished Margarita and I had still not honed in on my next script. And I knew in my heart that this was the one. I was ready and eager to explore the subject most dear to my heart by this time – the loss of a child.”
At the Elgin theatre at a second screening on September 13, the film received a standing ovation as the stars came on the stage. Cameron Bailey, Artistic Head and co-founder of TIFF, had to gently suggest to the audience that they would perhaps prefer to sit down during the Q&A.
What were some of the challenges, Bailey, asked of actors Chopra and Chopra?
“The most interesting thing about being real life people and especially Aditi that everything you see in this film is verbatim from them, every scene that you see like Aisha used to say that my family is like a zoo, so I call them Moose and Panda,” said Chopra when asked what her challenges were during the film. There is so much reality to their lives in this movie that the responsibility of that kind of shook me. When you do movies based on real lives, you take liberties, but Shonali is not the director to do that. She was very clear about that. I derived so much from Aditi – who she is, what she felt, everything she went through, what they as a family went through. Shonali has lost a child, I’m not a mother, and understanding what it took to lose a child, such an unnatural thing to happen in the circle of life, I could not fathom it, but I empathized with it. So I kind of delved into her (Shonali’s) soul, asked her a million questions, stuck by her. To me, this is an amalgamation of Aditi Chaudhry and Shonali Bose and for me, the star of this film is Shonali,” said Chopra dressed in a pink gown on September 13.
Certainly the film belongs to the star Shonali Bose, said Akhtar.
“The most crucial thing as an actor was to be as honest as one can possibly be because it’s not something that you are creating. You are really a conduit for someone else’s life, someone else’s story. We met Niren, we met Aditi. I saw a lot of footage that they had shot behind the scenes as a family interacting with Aisha. There is no such thing as a false note when you are living life because that’s who you are, but when you are portraying those people, you, the audience, should feel the same way that I felt when I was watching the footage behind the scenes. And to retain that same feeling on stage was very crucial and that was a big challenge.”
When Bailey called the real parents Aditi and Niren Chaudhry and their son Ishaan to come on stage, the crowds went ballistic.
“It was 24 January, 2015 when Aisha held my hand and said ‘Dad I don’t want to die’ and I’m so grateful that she’s come back to life tonight,” said Niren Chaudhry.