- The film tries to tell both men and women that every bad behavior can’t be blamed on alcohol.
Directed by debutante Jasmeet Reen, “Darlings” is a dark comedy that tells the story of a woman’s revenge on her violent husband. Starring Alia Bhatt as Badrunissa Shaik (Bhadru), the film revolves around the young married woman and the abuse she faces by her husband, Hamza Shaikh, (Vijay Varma) ). Her mother Shamsunissa (Shefali Shah ) is a close witness to her daughter’s plight.
Hamza is no ordinary wife-beater. He has a day job in the Indian Railways; owns a house and keeps his alcoholism and domestic abuse under cover like so many men. He shows absolutely no remorse even though the entire neighborhood, i.e the chemist, the butcher and the beautician are fully aware of what is going on. He has acted so realistically that he creeped me out.
The other man in Bhadru and Shamsunissa’s life is Zulfi (Roshan Mathew), the door-to-door salesman of kitchen appliances. He has a secret passion for writing the great Indian novel and he harbors a secret crush. He encourages Shamsunissa, the still voluptuous widow, to set up her catering business on Instagram.
The screenplay is written by Teen and Parveez Sheikh. I love Vijay Maurya’s witty dialogues. The chai and chat between the mother-daughter duo and their uncanny interactions, in general, are genuinely funny.
To go back to the story, Bhadru is a young housewife who dreams of having a baby, saving her doting husband from alcoholism and living in a high-rise apartment in the heart of town, dressed in “red” dresses, hats and accessories! She ignores her mother’s warnings about her husband’s bad behavior until it’s too late.
Only after Bhadru becomes a mother who has lost her child, does she become as ferocious and forthright as Shah. Finally, the folktale of the frog and the scorpion sinks into her psyche. Now she holds Hamza hostage. Ties him up. Drugs him. Gags him. Bashes him with brickbats. Makes him shell peas and boiled eggs. Continues to cook and cater lunch without any remorse for her actions. It’s payback but the mother-daughter duo has to figure out an end to this abduction saga because Hamza’a office folks including his boss (Kiran Karmarkar) and the police are getting suspicious of the two and their tiffin delivery guy. Meanwhile, Badru is trying to figure out what to do with Hamza.
There is a lot of violence in the second half of the movie, but it is juxtaposed with comedic sequences. It reminds me a bit of the cleverness of the two women (trapped in a man’s world) in “Dedh Ishqiya.” But in this case, you wonder how far will Badru take her revenge with her Darlings?
At two hours 14 minutes, the film seems slow, and the first half deals with a daily battering of a naive girl who believes in her husband’s love talk. “Darlings pleaje..,” as well as the plastic hearts and teddy bears.
I wanted to shake some sense into Badrunnisa, like her mother tries to, but the girl keeps building pipe dreams.
Finally, I had to fast forward the domestic violence scenes and was about to turn it off after she loses her unborn child but then the damsel in distress decided to lick her wounds and transform into a “Kali, the princess of Nisha” (as the policeman had portended).
Shah steals the show with her expressive, kohled eyes, floral printed kurtas and white dupattas. Her dialogue delivery, hapless mannerisms (“Chai pee kar jaana,” with one end of the pallu tucked in her mouth) are seamless and award-worthy. A bit like her acting in “Jalsa,” but stronger and more natural.
Bhatt does justice to her now naive/now hard-hearted role. She is very versatile. When I saw her walk into the opening frame with two kulfis in her hand, I wondered where she is going to take this story. Kasim Bhai (Rajesh Sharma) as the trusted butcher uncle does not speak a word but is privé to all the family secrets.
The final choice Badrunissa makes, in the end, is the right choice as per her mother. “Tu thik kari, nahi to hamesha yaad aata rehta.” That seemingly simple sentence unfolds a lifetime of unhappiness and harsh domestic truths. Also “Darlings” tries to tell both men and women that every bad behavior can’t be blamed on alcohol.
The film is produced by Red Chillies and Eternal Sunshine (Alia Bhatt’s own production house). Darlings is streaming on Netflix.
With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are “My Light Reflections” and “Flow through My Heart.” You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM and the Princess Theater.