Streaming on Netflix 5th August 2022
Jasmeet K Rheen’s Darlings is a domestic noir filled with elements of a dark comedy and thriller. It is a difficult genre to crack for any director let alone a debutant. The rough edges are very much visible but there is no denying that Jasmeet makes some important points on domestic abuse, most importantly it doesn’t paint all men as monsters. It is also a delight to watch the ensemble cast of Alia Bhatt, Shefali Shah, Vijay Varma and Roshan Mathew. Alia has co produced this film under the banner of Eternal Sunshine productions.
The story of Darlings is set in a lower middle-class Muslim dominated neighbourhood. Badrunisaa (aka Badru) played by Alia Bhatt is a woman who is married to an abusive man Hamza (Vijay Varma). Badru represents those housewives that put up with abuse in hope that the husband will change one day. Shefali Shah plays Badru’s mother Shamshunisaa. Shamshunisaa is a more practical woman who knows that Hamza is never going to change, the reason being she has had her own share of domestic abuse in the hands of her deceased husband. She constantly advises Badru to leave Hamza but Badru is admant that her husband will change. The fourth key character is Zulfi (Roshan Mathew). He is the antithesis to the violent Hamza. He is an aspiring screenplay writer who also sells household appliances for a living. Zulfi also serves a solo delivery boy for the dabba service of Shamshu. Coming back to the marriage of Badru and Hamza, a certain incident happens, which leaves Badru with no option, other than to make Hamza pay for his sins with the help of her mother. These plans lead to several risky situations. The dark humour is generated out of the outlandish situations that arise out of these plans.
Jasmeet K Rheen does a wonderful job in setting up the world of Badru and Shamshu. Both these women are as different as chalk and cheese, this makes the dynamics between the two more interesting.
The bustling chawl where the film takes place plays out as a character in itself. The scenes leading up to the domestic violence is filled with a sense of dread that makes you uncomfortable.
Jasmeet also does a good job in addressing the unequal power structure of marriage. This comes out brilliantly in a scene of police station where Shefali Shah says that world may have changed for those on twitter and facebook but not for them.
The biggest pleasure of watching Darlings lies in watching the scenes between Shefali Shah and Alia. There is a constant tussle happening throughout between the mother and daughter. This leads to many entertaining moments.
Out of the two Shefali Shah has the more fleshed role and not surprisingly the actress does a stellar job. She pulls off her quirky character with ease, and is the source of comic relief in many scenes. Alia as Badru starts off this as this submissive wife and it takes some time for Badru to transform. The transition could have better etched out but it is to the credit of the actress that she sells it. Alia plays the character with complete conviction and wholeheartedly embraces all the contradictions of Badru. Alia is particularly impressive in the climax scene. Vijay Varma makes for a terrific psychopath. He effortlessly switches from a loving husband to a violent demon within a matter of second. Lastly Roshan Mathew is also charming as the loving Zulfi. His scenes with the mother and daughter do bring a smile on your face.
Darlings falters when the director starts mixing elements of dark comedy with thriller. The situations in the second half lack plausibility factor even within the outlandish situation. Badru tying Hamza with dupatta and constantly giving him sleeping pills is too farfetched. The policemen led by Vijay Maurya come across as bumbling fools.
Another major problem is that director Jasmeet takes way too much time for Badru to finally come to a decision. This indecisiveness of Badru till the last moment makes it hard for the audiences to root for her character in entirety.
All said and done, Jasmeet addresses the different dynamics in an abusive marriage, but mixing of elements needed to better. A more matured director was the need of the hour.
Also read: Jug Jug Jeeyo: This dramedy packs a punch