Your previous movies, Amu (2005) and Margarita with a Straw (2015), drew on personal experiences. Why did you choose to tell the story of Aisha Chaudhary and her family in your new film?
Other than the fact that I also lost my son Ishaan, I was inspired by the romance of Aisha’s parents — Aditi and Niren. For five years, they knew their child was going to die (due to pulmonary fibrosis). In spite of that, they decided to live their life to the fullest. That I found incredible. I knew what it meant to lose a child. This made it easy for me to write The Sky is Pink, drawing on my own grief, recovery, and acceptance of death.
From the trailer, it seems it has a joyous vibe.
The joy comes from my life. I dealt with my son’s death positively and received a lot of light from the universe. Even after his death, I have found joy in living. I draw from my own joie de vivre while writing and directing.
How did you come to terms with his death?
I was 21 when I lost my mother due to medical negligence. She was 42 at that time and she was the centre of my life. Nearly 25 years later, when my 16-year-old son died, I thought I can’t spend another 25 years grieving. I had not accepted my mother’s death. After Ishaan, I set aside time for what I called ‘grief work’. I faced my feelings and did not wave them away. We need to be as comfortable with sadness as we are with happiness.
How do you choose your subjects?
When I feel a spark within me and feel excited by a subject, I think of taking it up. The spark can come from anywhere. I devote a year and write a minimum of 20 drafts before I make a movie. I put all of myself into writing as well as directing.
I wrote Amu because I had witnessed the genocide in Delhi in 1984 and no one had touched that subject. I thought of Margarita… because my cousin (who has cerebral palsy) said ‘I want to have sex’. I realised I had never thought of that in all those years of knowing her. When Aditi and Niren approached me (to make a movie about their daughter), I wanted to write about the loss of a child.
Did your previous work as an activist play a role in your decision to tell the story of the 1984 riots?
Yes, and also the fact that justice was not delivered when I started writing Amu’s script. I was very keen to make a narrative feature film on the subject. I knew only a feature film, and not a documentary, can reach people who don’t know the truth. I ended the movie with the 2002 Gujarat riots, which took place as I was editing Amu.
How difficult is it to tell the stories about uncomfortable truths?
No one wanted to produce Amu and Margarita…. After they were made, I faced censorship and was fighting against the cuts (including scenes featuring the female protagonist sharing a kiss with another woman). Compared to them, The Sky is Pink has been a joyride. I had approached five top Mumbai-based production houses and no one wanted to touch it. Then, Roy Kapoor Films asked if I had a script. The way I’ve dealt with death appealed to Sid (Siddharth Roy Kapoor) and, in two weeks, he agreed to produce it.
Since the movie has a bigger scale and stars like Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar, did that pose a challenge?
Usually, producers don’t trust an indie filmmaker with a big-budget movie. Instead, they go to someone who has done ad films but doesn’t have much experience in features. The making of The Sky is Pink was easier for me as a bigger budget meant I had more support.
Is it easier for women to make films today?
Definitely. Amu was made 15 years ago. At that time, a producer said that he would fund the film if the protagonist is male. It could have been a boy, but I wanted it to be a girl. As a woman director, my tendency has been to write woman-led movies. The landscape has changed for us with many women directors coming in, but we have a long way to go.
How important are festival screenings?
We got a terrific response for The Sky is Pink at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). (But) I don’t want people to assume that it’s a ‘festival’ or ‘intellectual’ movie. Since my previous two movies were not mainstream, critical acclaim is what I could bank on to market them. The Sky is Pink is a movie that has great performances and songs and is entertaining. It will make you laugh and cry.