The Sky is Pink: Wooden ‘Humanism'

The Sky is Pink: Wooden ‘Humanism'

Humanism’ is a popular category in cinema that proceeds from the notion that human lives are valuable. Once, humanism was ‘political’ in that it acknowledged that the same value was not placed on every human life.

The humanism of ‘Bicycle Thieves’, for instance, is founded in the recognition of political inequality. But that was when there were still utopian possibilities accepted, which lost ground subsequently. With the rise of the market economy and its logic acknowledged as supreme, the sense of human lives being of unequal value has lost ground, accounting for ‘apolitical humanism’ in cinema, concern often lavished on people subject to natural processes like decrepitude and illness. A film like Michael Haneke’s Amour (2013) belongs to this category, as does The Sky is Pink (director: Shonali Bose).

Humanism in Indian cinema was once almost entirely political (in the above sense) and all of humanist cinema was also of the art-house category although this changed; ‘humanism’ in Indian art cinema would now include films like Astu (2015), about a former professor suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Bollywood was itself once only purveying myths but, with the multiplex revolution making it possible to target educated audiences exclusively, intimate Hindi films about ordinary people living through everyday problems have become possible as entertainment.

‘The Sky is Pink’ is a film that is ‘humanist’ in the new apolitical sense, even while it showcases lavish lifestyles — as Bollywood is inclined to do in the global age — because it is addressing a class identifying with India’s growth story.

‘The Sky is Pink’ spans twenty-five years or so and begins with Aditi Chaudhury (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) waking up and walking up to an empty bed till recently occupied by her dead daughter, Aisha. Her husband Niren (Farhan Akhtar) sees her doing this and we sense the trauma in their past. We then go back to the late 1990s in a flashback when Aditi has become pregnant but refuses an abortion — although that is what Niren wants. The two have a son Ishaan and we learn that both parents have the same recessive gene as a result of which they lost their first child to an immunodeficiency disorder; Aisha now suffers from the same ailment. Niren is working in London and they cannot afford treatment for Aisha but a public appeal brings in money and Aisha is saved for now.

‘The Sky is Pink’ is about family trauma but ‘humanism’ was not the only option it might have used. Hollywood once had a category called ‘family drama’, about conflict within the family, often dealing with a ghost from the past having to be exorcised. In Robert Redford’s ‘Ordinary People’ (1980), the trauma is caused by the accidental death of a son. But there was also the attempted suicide of the other son and the family split by the parents blaming each other, even as the mother is trying to maintain the appearance of normalcy. There are so many causes for conflict that the drama is kept alive.

In ‘The Sky is Pink’, it is as though the illness of the daughter is the only matter to be dealt with by Aditi and Niren; in the interludes when Aisha is not seriously ailing, we have ‘joy’ in the shape of laughter, parties and holidays in seaside resorts, complete with snorkelling and undersea life. The family is living lavishly since Niren is a top executive in India, but would not even a wealthy family have issues, as for instance workplace conflicts or internal disagreements? Aisha, when she seems healthy, has a young man in attendance but it is not allowed to become a romance, as though that would be unseemly.

It is the absence of any kind of conflict that also make bonds within the family appear non-existent in the film. Apart from there being no discernible chemistry between the two stars, despite the surfeit of smiling they engage in, the children appear simply there to complete the group, with the dog as an add-on. Aisha’s illness is nominally at the centre but it means little when Aisha is so uninvolved in actually living. When we reflect upon the tepidity of ‘The Sky is Pink’ we realise that love and loss take on meaning only when life has value, and it cannot have value unless conflicts of some kind constantly threaten happiness. Since prosperity and harmony are not valued unless they are endangered, one is even left to wonder how the family might survive with Aisha’s illness out of the way, since only that kept them engaged.