‘Darlings’ movie review: A quirky take on domestic violence that is less than the sum of its parts

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Alia Bhatt is as quicksilver as ever, Shefali Shah is equally mercurial and Vijay Verma shines in a challenging role, but the inherent elegance of the three actors, sometimes, sanitises the everyday characters they play

Alia Bhatt is as quicksilver as ever, Shefali Shah is equally mercurial and Vijay Verma shines in a challenging role, but the inherent elegance of the three actors, sometimes, sanitises the everyday characters they play

Dismantling the crutches that help patriarchy saunter into living rooms, Darlings is a quirky social thriller that eventually almost reduces to a well-made public service film on domestic violence. The good thing is director Jasmeet K Reen inadvertently acknowledges the progression before the end credits roll.

Made with an activist’s gaze, the film wants women to punch past the abuse rather than negotiate with the scorpion, a euphemism used for the abusive husband in the film.

Darlings says that when it comes to domestic violence, there are no gray areas. It doesn’t allow an abusive husband to fall into the safety net of social conditioning and eating and drinking habits. The creature is born with a sense of entitlement and expresses it when he imagines provocation from the so-called weaker sex.

Set in Mumbai’s Byculla area, the narrative pulls us into the world of Badru (Alia Bhatt) and Hamza (Vijay Verma). Romance has led to marriage and after three years, they appear a lovey-dovey couple but Hamza seems to feel violence is also part of the everyday co-existence of a man and a woman living under a roof. He hits her, she sheds a tear, he says sorry and she believes it has more to do with the liquor in the belly than the vacuum in his head. It is a toxic pattern that we all see around us but ignore, very much like the beautician who lives a floor beneath the couple.

Darlings

Director: Jasmeet K. Reen

Cast: Alia Bhatt, Shefali Shah, Vijay Varma and Roshan Mathew

Duration: 134 minutes

Storyline: Badru hopes her volatile husband will reform if he stops drinking. But when his rage goes too far, she and her mom boldly, albeit clumsily, seek revenge

A ticket collector in the Indian Railways, interestingly, Hamza doesn’t lose his cool when his boss bullies him into doing things that are well below his dignity. Perhaps, he drags his unfulfilled being home and turns into a beast.

Eventually, Badru and her feisty single mother Shamsu (Shefali Shah) decide to turn the tables on Hamza by adopting an eye for an eye approach. A cook, Shamsu has her own recipe of survival and unlike her daughter, Shamsu’s ingredients are, at times, a little too spicy for comfort. She has more than one admirer and she uses them to her own advantage, particularly Zulfi (Roshan Mathew), a writer who makes ends meet by selling stolen goods.

After drawing us into the realistic narrative, the writers, keen to live up to the offbeat label, try a few tricks to keep the audience entertained. But the funny twists don’t consistently work in a film that assumes an edifying tone in the second half. Curiously, words like talaq and khula are not even considered by writers who seem anxious to have blood on their pens. It seems the central twist was written first, and then the rest of the screenplay was dressed up.

From the heartfelt performances of the actors, to Vishal Bhardwaj’s music and Gulzar’s lyrics, there is much to appreciate, but the end result is still a tad underwhelming. With trailers telling a lot more than required, these days, even thrillers have become predictable. It feels like a short film that is stretched because of its big message and competent performers.

Alia is as quicksilver as ever, Shefali is equally mercurial and Vijay Verma shines in a challenging role. But despite the correct diction and delivery of dialogues, the three actors, after a point, seem too perfect to belong to the world that they inhabit on-screen. Their inherent elegance, sometimes, sanitises the everyday characters they play. Perhaps the director’s vision causes dissonance. Despite dealing with an emotionally messy issue, the execution feels a little too clinical and stage-managed. 

Not bad, but Anubhav Sinha’s  Thappad, made on a similar theme, was a more satisfying experience.

Darlings is currently streaming on Netflix

https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/darlings-movie-review-a-quirky-take-on-domestic-violence-that-is-less-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/article65730749.ece