The Sky Is Pink lead pair, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Farhan Akhtar along with Rohit Suresh Saraf, talk to Titas Chowdhury about their lessons as they were filming, the overwhelming response they received at TIFF 2019 and share some interesting shenanigans on set
Hello, how are you guys doing?
Farhan Akhtar (FA): Amazing!
Priyanka Chopra Jonas (PCJ): We are alright.
FA: This is our first interview.
PCJ: And we are very excited about it.
Coming to the film, The Sky Is Pink talks about life and death and most of us have seen death very closely. Did you draw some inspiration from your personal life or experiences?
PCJ: Well, I do not think I drew inspiration from my personal experiences but I definitely think that before this, I did not know how to deal with loss, especially when it came to the loss of my father. I was very, very close to him. With this film and after listening to Aditi (Chaudhary) and Niren’s (Chaudhary) perspective on how to deal with death and Shonali’s (Bose) perspective, who has also lost a son, I have healed a lot more. It was a cathartic experience. I don’t think I can do a scene thinking about something that has happened to me, because when I play a character, I am actually trying not to be me. I am trying to embody the person that I am playing and being myself or thinking about my experience at that time would be distracting. There was a moment where one scene got to me really bad. And I just held Shonali and I kept crying. I told her that I am so sorry that she went through all this. I empathised a lot more. But I don’t know how to derive something like this from my personal experiences.
Rohit Suresh Saraf (RSS): When I read the script of The Sky Is Pink, I couldn’t help not think about my father. I did think about him a lot. I lost him when I was 11. It was almost uncanny how the scenes were written and what had happened with my father, I don’t want to go into that, but the situation was very similar. So I did think about it a lot, in fact. I don’t think I will say I derived from it, but it really got to me, as she (Priyanka) said. I was an absolute mess. That one day, we were only shooting four to five scenes, which is the entire death sequence. And I was dreading that day. It was much later in the schedule but by the time we got there, I was dreading it. We got through it and the next day I realised how important it was and how much better I felt after shooting those scenes. I think it was needed and I am very glad that it happened.
FA: I completely agree with what Priyanka said. We all have, of course, experienced loss in our lives. But when you are serving a story and when you’re serving a script, it becomes about something else. Of course, there’ll be experiences, there’ll be residual memories and emotions and your subconscious is giving you certain bits of information, which you are not even aware of when you are reading a scene. And all that comes into play, but not at a conscious level. At that point, you just want to make sure that this narrative is clear to you. And when it is clear to you, it’s as clear to the audience when they watch it and you perform it with the kind of clarity that the director wants from you. That’s what we are really thinking about while shooting a scene.
On the surface, it looks like a light-hearted film, but it’s heavy on emotions. Farhan, if we look at your character graph, you start off as a young lover and then you are a responsible father who loses his daughter.
FA: That’s right.
How did you, as an actor, travel through this emotional graph?
FA: A lot of it just comes from good writing. There was so much on that page when you first read the whole script. It included all the nuances of the character. Then when I spoke to Shonali, the director, she had a great idea of what Niren was like and what she wanted Niren to be and come across as, and you just absorb all of it. Also trying not to overthink it all helps, don’t try and get caught up in things like I’ll put a full stop here and a comma there. I did not think about all that stuff.
So there was not any method as such?
FA: No, there was not. The proper framework is given to you with everything in place. What you have to do is just trust that person and bring it to life. That’s what it was and I just followed this wonderful woman, Shonali, down this journey. We trusted her implicitly and she was watching everything that was happening. At no point did I feel lost because of her and at no point did I feel that I am out of my depth because of her. Whatever you see is the result of that trust and of the great writing that she and Nilesh (Maniyar), the co-writer, has done. Nilesh has also written the dialogue of the film.
Priyanka, did you meet Aditi Chaudhary?
PCJ: All of us have met the characters that we have played in the film but initially, Shonali did not want us meeting the people that we play before we began filming.
Any particular reason why?
PCJ: She had met them and she derived everything she needed to from them. She and Nilesh had gone in-depth and Aditi and Niren had literally gotten naked in terms of their emotions, experiences and everything when it comes to telling the truth about what their life was all about. I think Shonali did not want us to be swayed in a way where we try to mimic them. Whenever you play a real character, it is more about playing the essence of the character and the same goes with The Sky Is Pink. But I kind of muscled my way in and said that, no, I have to meet her. I flew down to London, and I said, I am not trying to meet Aditi because I want to copy her characteristics or how she uses her hands or anything. I am not a mother. I wanted to understand what it is like to go through an experience like that. I derived tremendously from both Aditi and Shonali because both of them have gone through that experience. Then I made changes in myself from whatever I have understood from them.
The Sky Is Pink premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) sometime back and it received great response there. The Chaudharys were also present. How was it watching the film there and receiving a standing ovation in their presence?
PCJ: When we were watching the movie, there were 2000 people sitting in the theatre. First and foremost, that itself is like a daunting thing. Then there was Roy Thomson Hall where so many incredible movies have been shown and there’s so much history attached to that venue. Some great world cinema happened in that movie theatre. Also, the best of the best movies are selected at TIFF. There were a lot of nerves and we were all on pins and needles. Throughout the screening, we could hear people laughing, crying and sniffling.
So for me, since I had already watched the film, I was listening to people a lot more. But even then, when the credits rolled and the film got over, people just stood up and started clapping and continued doing so and then we stood up. I got really emotional experiencing that. As an artiste, that is what you actually want. You want people to like your work, you want them to like your effort. It surely was an emotional experience for all of us.
And how did Aditi and Niren react to the film?
FA: Well, Niren said, it is the best film he has ever seen. So, I would like to believe him, of course, for our own personal reasons. (Everyone laughs)
I’ll say this on behalf of every one of us, we were really happy that they were there when the screening happened at TIFF. It is not at all easy for you to expose your life story out to the world. They have exposed it, scars and all. It is not just the cushy stuff. And also, you are talking about a time in your life which most people would not want to revisit. You want to just move on. It also will remind them of the time that Aisha was there in their life and take them back to those days. The strength and courage to revisit that, the courage to show the world what they went through while this was going on, the stress that it had on them as a couple and to talk about all that so openly requires a tremendous amount of heart and a tremendous amount of love inside to be able to do that. And after all this, to see people appreciate it the way they did in the theatres, stand up and applaud it for just being so honest, that was absolutely overwhelming.
PCJ: It was also special because the audience was not just the people who spoke and understood Hindi. People were reading the subtitles and reacting the same way. There was a very diverse crowd of all kinds of ethnicities. And to see that kind of diversity reacting, in the same manner, shows you that cinema transcends languages and cinema transcends borders. And that gave me goosebumps.
FA: And their honest emotions are universal.
Rohit, you got to share the screen space with two powerhouse performers. Was it daunting initially?
RSS: It was very scary.
PCJ: Shut up!
RSS: Of course, it was scary.
PCJ: You did not look scared from any angle.
RSS: Please ask Farhan.
FA: Ask me?
PCJ: He (Farhan) is scary, I am not.
RSS: It’s really funny because I had already shot two schedules with them in Mumbai and in London. The scenes we were supposed to do needed me to be emotionally comfortable with Farhan to be able to open up. (Priyanka laughs)
And I was petrified of Farhan.
FA: I don’t know.
RSS: Because he is scary!
PCJ: He is intimidating. That is a better word.
RSS: But I want to call it scary.
FA: One second. You know I am just quiet and if being quiet intimidates somebody that is not my fault.
But do you think you are scary?
FA: No, not at all. Why would I think I am scary? (Everyone laughs)
No, but you always have an opinion about yourself.
PCJ: She means to say, do you think people think you are scary?
FA: Sometimes when I wake up in the morning and look into the mirror and see my hair is ruffled, that’s scary but otherwise no, I don’t think I am scary.
PCJ: Sorry Rohit, we did not mean to come into your conversation.
RSS: So what I was saying was that there was one time when I needed to be emotionally comfortable with Farhan. Before this particular scene, I went up to Farhan and I told him that I am petrified of him and that he intimidates me and I don’t know what to do because I really want to be able to perform well in the scene. It was funny because he just laughed about it and said that I should have told this to him on day one and then I would not have had to go through so much trouble. So yes, it was very daunting in the beginning.
FA: Then I told him, just go and stand there and do not come and talk to me till the scenes get over. Jab dekho tab! (Everyone laughs)
RSS: But yes, then it got better.
Then you broke the ice.
RSS: Priyanka was great with me from day one. She was fun.
FA: What does that mean? I was not great with you? What do you mean by “she was great with me”?
PCJ: I am fun only! (Laughs)
FA: Fun is different from great.
PCJ: Fun is great.
RSS: Yes! Fun. She was fun.
PCJ: (To Rohit) What do you mean? So, I am not great?
RSS: Arre yaar…
(Priyanka and Rohit laugh)
FA: But there is a difference. I am telling you yaar, I am a silent person on set, I do my own thing, sit on the side and do my crossword and stuff. But everybody feels like I am a snob.
PCJ: You got him into trouble, didn’t you?
Yes. I am sorry Rohit.
FA: No more questions for Rohit!
RSS: You used to play Sudoku right?
FA: Not Sudoku, I was playing crossword.
RSS: I have started hating that game. Because every time I saw it on his phone, I couldn’t go up and talk to him.
I am sure this must have gone throughout the shoot.
FA: Yes, they both were having fun and he was scared of me, yes it was always that way.