Synopsis – Badru hopes her volatile husband will reform if he stops drinking. However, when his rage goes too far, she and her mum boldly, albeit clumsily, seek revenge.
My Take – Ever since she made her feature screen debut as an adult in Student of the Year (2012), Alia Bhatt has proven time and again that there is no role she can’t play onscreen, making her arguably the best among the young crop of actors. Hence, there is always a certain expectation attached to her every new screen outings.
Her latest too, a Netflix India release, which marks her debut as a producer (and has Shah Rukh Khan‘s Red Chillies Entertainment as a co-producer), is yet another evidence of her knack of choosing good scripts. Not only is it based on an original script by Parveez Shaikh and Jasmeet K. Reen, but it is also a legit social dramedy disguised as a dark comedy entertainingly capturing both the genres with utmost sincerity.
Marking the directorial debut of co-writer Jasmeet K. Reen, the film uses a decent and relevant story to throw light on domestic abuse and raises the right questions to find ways to deal with men who look charming on the surface but are actually demons in plain sight.
Elevated by stunning performances, it may attract a plethora of opinions on the route that the filmmaker has chosen to make her point, but hopefully it will at least get people discussing the subject a lot more. As unfairly hyped, the film doesn’t try to mock the domestic violence, but deals with the sensitive topic with nice detailing.
Sure, it might not be the best black comedy out there, but it definitely is worth a watch, especially if you are looking for stories about strong women taking charge of their own lives.
Set in a lower middle-class Muslim-dominated neighborhood in Mumbai, the story follows Badrunissa Sheikh aka Badru (Alia Bhatt), a strong-willed girl who has been married to Hamza (Vijay Varma) for three years and lives in a typical chawl, which is a large building divided into many separate tenements, offering cheap, basic accommodation. However, things are not as lovey-dovey as it may seem, as Hamza is an alcoholic, has major anger management issues, is manipulative and beats Badru over matters that can be ignored.
Only to apologize and make amends the next morning with his sweet talk. Repeating the cycle the very same day. But Badru remains optimistic, reminding herself as since it was a love marriage, arguments and such abuse must be common across, much to the dismay of her mother, Shamshunissa “Shamshu” Ansari (Shefali Shah), who lives a couple of doors away from her and just wants Badru to see through the situation clearly and act on it. But when a tragic incident occurs Badru, Shamshu and their friendly neighbor Zulfi (Roshan Mathew) are forced to take things in their own hands.
Here, director Jasmeet K. Reen spends no time beating around the bush and gets to the point five minutes into the film. With a runtime of 134 minutes, the film is well-paced with interesting revelations being made one after the other, all the while taking a closer look at patriarchy and domestic violence amid the social-psychological milieu of the lower middle class. Reen‘s story that she has co-written Parveez Sheikh is gripping and does trigger emotions of angst, helplessness and empathy.
More than the story, the dialogues are impressive and genuinely make the film fit into the dark comedy genre. Some one-liners and comic punches are so subtle that if you don’t pay attention, you won’t understand why the person sitting next to you is laughing so hard. Most importantly, the film does not play out along the predictable lines of a revenge drama, it has no dramatic flourishes of the standard kind that aid full comprehension of the psyche of either the perpetrator of domestic abuse or the victim. Allowing an interplay of moral certitudes and natural human inconsistencies and adds a certain depth to the tale.
With the camaraderie between the mother and daughter being the heart of the film, whether its heart-wrenching, emotional scenes or tougher scenes made light with subtle humor. They slip into the skin of their character effortlessly, feed off each other’s energy as actors and take you along with their story.
Despite being let down by the men in their lives, they choose to not look at themselves as victims and that is the highlight of this daring domestic drama that sheds light on the male privilege, physical-emotional abuse and intimidation. Yes, despite dealing with an emotionally messy issue, some may find the ending too clinical and staged. But it leaves ample room to raise ethical questions involved in pitting one brand of violence against another.
Performance wise, Alia Bhatt plays her part brilliantly as a wife torn between love for her abusive husband and punishing him. Proving once again that he’s not hyped just for the sake of it. Despite a stellar performance by Alia, Shefali Shah is the most intriguing element of the film. The emotional burden Shamshu comes in the guise of her quirky nature is highlighted impeccably well by the veteran actress.
Vijay Varma owns the hate he gets for Hamza so much that almost starts feeling like he’s feasting on the same to improve his character. Varma effortlessly switches from being an abusive husband to a loving husband. Roshan Matthew as the unsuspecting Zulfi gives life to yet another interesting character on screen. In smaller roles, Kiran Karmarkar, Rajesh Sharma, Vijay Maurya and Santosh Juvekar are effective. On the whole, ‘Darlings’ is an entertaining black comedy thriller that deals with a sensitive topic with nice detailing.
Directed – Jasmeet K Reen
Rated – TV-14
Run Time – 134 minutes