Mumbai-based filmmaker Shonali Bose's third directorial venture, The Sky Is Pink, starring Priyanka Chopra, Farhan Akhtar and Zaira Wasim, is set to premiere at the 44th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Friday.
In an exclusive interview, the director, whose first two films, Amu and Margarita With a Straw, also screened in TIFF, spoke about the experience of working with two major Bollywood stars in a restrained, sensitive true story about the loss of a teenage child and the impact of the tragedy on her parents.
"It was initially a bit intimidating to work with Farhan and Priyanka," says Bose. "For one, Farhan is a director I personally admire. Moreover, he is someone who has directed Priyanka in a film. I felt conscious, but the two actors surrendered completely and trusted me. That made my job easy."
The Sky Is Pink is about a 25-year relationship between a real-life couple, Aditi and Niren Chaudhary, whose 19-year-old daughter, Aisha, died of pulmonary fibrosis contracted as a result of chemotherapy done for Severe Combined Immune Deficiency (SCID).
Aisha, who wrote poetry and painted in the last five years of her life as life gradually ebbed out of her, saw the trailer of "Margarita With a Straw" 30 to 40 times.
''She said she hoped that she would live to see the film but she died before the film was released," Bose says.
Her parents saw the film. Six months later, they approached Bose to make a film about the life and death of their daughter seen from the viewpoint of the parents. The film's narration is done by Aisha, played by Zaira Wasim, who brings her perspective to the story in the form of a character spirit who lets the audience into her life.
"This narrative device came to us at the stage of the first draft itself," says Bose, who conducted a workshop to get Priyanka ready for the role of the mother. "She is a very hard-working actress and gave the role her all."
The film, says Bose, was made possible by the fact that the parents of Aisha shared their story without any restraint. "Everything in the film is real. I did not make up anything," she adds.
The film's TIFF cut, Bose reveals, is slightly shorter than the version that is set to release commercially on October 11. The film that will hit the theatres in India will have a longer version of a song composed by music director by Pritam with lyrics by Gulzar.
"The Sky Is Pink" has been produced by Ronnie Screwvala and Siddharth Roy Kapoor, both of whom will be present at the film's world premiere alongside Farhan, Priyanka and the director.
The producer of Bose's "Amu" released only three prints of the film. "I paid for two additional prints," recalls the director.
Margarita With a Straw had a 300-print release. "A thousand prints of 'The Sky Is Pink' will be in the theatres," reveals Bose.