Confident and accomplished, with a bestie who just happens to be the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, Priyanka Chopra Jonas is redefining Hollywood glamour and having an exhilarating time while she does it. The 37-year-old actor, singer and beauty queen has dozens of film credits in her native India, but in North America, she’s best known for being the lead on TV’s Quantico, which wrapped last year. More recently, she was all over the celebrity news wires due to her extravagant wedding to singer-songwriter and actor Nick Jonas last winter. (The five-day celebration included two ceremonies, a bespoke Ralph Lauren gown and a 23-metre-long veil.) Now, she’s starring in the sweeping film The Sky Is Pink, which looks at 25 years in the marriage of Aditi (Chopra Jonas) and Niren (Farhan Akhtar) from the perspective of their gravely ill, whip-smart teenage daughter, Aisha (Zaira Wasim).
The Sky Is Pink, which had its gala premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, is not your typical tear-jerker. Rather, the English-Hindi film is kooky and unexpected as it broaches the divisive issue of quality of life versus quantity. It’s also a true story, inspired by Aisha Chaudhary, whose parents overcame incredible obstacles to give her a life few thought possible. By the time she died of pulmonary fibrosis in 2015 at age 18, Chaudhary had become a sought-after motivational speaker who urged her audiences to live in the moment and had also authored a book, My Little Epiphanies.
“This film is melancholic; it’s poignant, it’s poetic, it’s artistic, but at the same time it’s a celebration of life more than anything else,” says Chopra Jonas over the phone from Miami, where she’s hanging with Nick and their extended family before the start of the Jonas Brothers’ Happiness Begins tour. “The film is not going to crush your heart—it’s going to make you want to go hug your parents and call your family.”
Funnily enough, it’s an actual phone call in the film that will resonate with many. Chopra Jonas’ character is calling her school-age son, Ishan, from a pay phone. The two are oceans apart, and Aditi is living in poverty in London, where her daughter is receiving treatment for SCID (severe combined immunodeficiency). Ishan, who is still in India, is crying because he was teased at school for drawing a picture with a pink sky. The conversation about an inane slight is one any parent can relate to, and Aditi is furious as she tells her son, “Never change the colour of your sky for someone else” before adding, “I coloured mine the way I wanted.”
Dress and belt (J.W. Anderson)
The scene is powerful not just because Chopra Jonas nails it but because, as the world’s first Indian superstar, she, too, is doing things the way she wants to. She already has dozens of acting credits to her name (in India and in the West), been named a UN Goodwill Ambassador and married a man 10 years her junior. She has been a vocal advocate for women’s rights around the world yet created a Twitterstorm over her position on Indian politics. She isn’t easily defined, and now, with The Sky Is Pink, she stars in – and produced – her first English-Hindi film because, well, borders aren’t her thing. “I don’t think that my careers in India and America are mutually exclusive – the world is a very small place, and entertainment is global,” she explains. “Hindi movies are very close to my heart, so as long as people want to watch me, I’m going to continue doing them.”
If a star of Chopra Jonas’ calibre had to push boundaries or be more Western to cross over into the American market, her profile now allows her to retreat a little and embrace the #AlwaysADesiGirl hashtag you’ll find on her Instagram feed. She recently appeared on a U.S. magazine cover in a traditional Indian sari, a look she loves dearly and considers super-flattering for any woman’s body. “When I was growing up, there was no world in which that would have happened,” says Chopra Jonas with pride. “I carry my culture everywhere I go. India can be mainstream instead of being a flavour, you know?”
Director Shonali Bose’s sensitive script for The Sky Is Pink is another reason Chopra Jonas knew she could bring an English-Hindi film across the sea. “Love and grief are things I dealt with very closely after the death of my father,” she says. Her dad succumbed to cancer in 2013. “Grief is eventually a companion and not really something that goes away. It’s so much better to celebrate how someone lived rather than the sadness of their death.”
A well-respected Indian-born director known for festival hits like Margarita with a Straw, Bose also brings an intimate awareness of mourning to this film, having lost her teenage son, Ishan, in a freak accident six years ago. Years of “grief work,” as she calls it, meant focusing all her attention on her younger child so that he would not feel like he’d lost his mother too and confronting every painful feeling as opposed to denying it. When the real Aditi Chaudhary approached Bose with her family’s story last year, Bose felt ready to write about the loss of a child.
“From the moment I started writing this script, I only wanted Priyanka as Aditi,” says Bose. She hadn’t worked with Chopra Jonas before but was certain the actor’s full potential had yet to be explored in either India or America. On the morning of Bose’s late son’s birthday, she received a text saying that Chopra Jonas loved the script and wanted to meet her. “And thus the journey started—blessed by Ishan all the way,” she says.
The two women grew close while shooting, drawn together by a mutual understanding of loss and love. “We laughed, we cried, we bonded,” says Bose. “Priyanka is extremely hard-working and committed. She had to fly to Paris in the middle of the shoot once for a wedding-gown fitting. She took the night flight after shooting all day and came back the next day, straight to the set. She shot 12 hours a day with us up to five days before her wedding. Who does that?”
Dress (Molly Goddard), bra (Nubian Skin) and rings (Priyanka’s own)
But, at the core of The Sky Is Pink is a love between husband and wife that cuts through the pain. Despite the countless sorrows and hurdles, the two remain as committed to each other as they are to their family. That’s something newlywed Chopra Jonas can relate to.
“Nick and I are both big lovers of family,” she says. “Today is the opening show of Nick’s tour, and we have a crew of about 35 people – husbands and kids – and food and a dog. It’s amazing.” Her family expanded again recently when Sophie Turner of Game of Thrones married Joe Jonas, joining Danielle Jonas as Chopra Jonas’ sisters-in-law. She’s relieved that they all hit it off right away and became close friends. “Thank God. Can you imagine?” she says conspiratorially, like a woman who knows she could have lost that lottery.
Despite her marriage, Chopra Jonas is hardly settling down. She manages a tri-coastal “nomadic” existence for now, with homes in L.A., New York and Mumbai. “Both Nick and I fly back and forth from India,” she explains. “He was in India eight times last year, and I go every couple of months because I still have a lot of things that I’m producing there.”
“Home is wherever I choose it to be,” she says. “As long as I have the people who matter.”
Photographer Marvin Kempski; stylist Jenny Kennedy; hair, Peter Gray (Home Agency/Shu Uemura Art of Hair); makeup, Sarah Tanno (Forward Artists/Marc Jacobs Beauty); manicure, Pattie Yankee (Nails Inc.); set design, Veronique Zanettin; tailor, Lucy Falck (Christy Rilling Studio); production, Urban NYC.