The husband is an alcoholic who has no remorse for assaulting his wife every night, the wife is in love with the man and doesn’t mind making breakfast – the main bun omelette – for her every morning without scars. With – This may be a regular occurrence in many Indian households, but it is rarely talked about how it should be done. It is not ideal to choose a topic like domestic violence for a dark comedy, but Darlings starring Alia Bhatt, Shefali Shah and Vijay Varma manages to hit the nail on the head. Directed by debutant Jasmeet K Rein, it is a quirky (as ironic as it may sound) look at how abuse against women and men is normalized. Neither act is fair, but it’s interesting to see the story in a way that it never really feels disturbing. (Also read: Alia Bhatt Says ‘Nothing Likes Gauri Khan’, Shares Her Review Of Darlings,
Badrunisa Shaikh aka Badru (Bhatt) is infatuated with roadside Romeo Hamza Shaikh (Vijay Verma), and marries her as soon as he gets himself a government job. Three years later and in life after marriage, we see Bhatt being beaten up every night for a new reason. Sometimes pebbles in food, sometimes just because she was sitting in the colony meeting without the consent of her husband. And once because she thinks she’s having an affair. The intensity of the abuse grows troubling and more intense with each day, until one day Badru decides to stand up and take charge. From that point on, Darlings shows how a middle-class mother-daughter duo (Shah and Bhatt), trapped in their own circumstantial hang-up, slowly battling all odds, survive in a city like Mumbai. Discover your inner strength.
With a runtime of two hours 14 minutes, the film is well-developed with one interesting revelation after another. Reen’s story that she co-wrote Parvez Shaikh is gripping and triggers feelings of anger, helplessness and empathy. More than the story, Vijay Maurya’s (along with Sheikh and Reen) dialogues are impressive and really fit the film into the dark comedy genre. Some of the one-liners and comic punch are so subtle that if you don’t pay attention you won’t understand why the person sitting next to you is laughing so loudly. Wait for the climax which is funny and sad in its own way.
But in part, the story haunts you when domestic violence is used as a ploy to trigger laughter – a woman who clings to her husband despite abuse, a man who shows no sign of regret. Not showing or showing his actions, is shown as satire to a mute audience. At a time when more progressive and powerful stories are being loved by audiences, Darlings makes you think, ‘Did we really need a film like this to make our point or convey a message? ‘ At times it seems that the film is dealing with the situation on a superficial level and does not want to go deep into understanding the psychology of men who think that domestic violence is normal and blame it on alcohol.
Moreover, Darlings are also full of stereotypical characters. A woman who owns a salon on the ground floor is aware of this scenario, but prefers to discuss it with her clients rather than take any action. There is a trusted uncle, Kasai Kasim Bhai (Rajesh Sharma) who hides the dirty antics of the family. Hamza also has a cunning boss (Kiran Karmarkar) who makes his life hell and likes to poke his nose at other people’s business.
That being said, performances at Darlings take the cake. Bhatt is in full form; His quirky lines, dialogue delivery, sensitive expressions, emotional ups and downs help to connect with him on a deeper level. In fact, in some parts she reminded me of Gully Boy’s Safina. Her onscreen mother is Shah, who delivers a phenomenal performance, and is more restrained than her recent outings in Human and Jalsa. Shah is lovely, strong and gives a fitting support to Bhatt’s story.
Varma is impressive as Hamza and manages to make you hate him. He is cruel and unfair and his character, I felt, is written in the most realistic way. Roshan Mathew as Zulfi is another character worth watching. They may have face-to-face scenes, but whatever little they get to perform, it goes unnoticed. I wish there were more scenes with her, and her bond with Shah and Bhatt was better presented.
The friendship between Bhatt and Shah is probably at Darlings’ strongest USP. Keeping this mother-daughter story at the center of the film is a smart move on the part of the filmmakers and not just focusing on the domestic violence angle between the couple. But when the tables turn and Hamza falls victim to his ruthless wife and her mother, violence against men somehow seems like a joke. Of course, Badru’s actions are justified as she is full of vengeance and hatred, but somewhere it makes you question the basis of the darlings itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if many people agree to get Bhatt to play a role that appears to be wrong, but then again, we have to take everything with a pinch of salt.
Watch Darlings for some harsh realities of our society, ace display, dark humour.
the director: Jasmeet K. Renee
Throw: Alia Bhatt, Shefali Shah, Vijay Verma, Roshan Mathew