Brave choice to weave a comedy around a grave concern and despite sparkling performances, Netflix movie Darlings falters as it heads to an unsatisfying climax: The Tribune India
Domestic violence, we all know and understand, is a serious matter and weaving a dark comedy around it requires some know-how as well as skill. So, on the account of brave choices, Jasmine K Reen can certainly be praised.
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Shefali Shah, Vijay Varma, Roshan Mathew, Rajesh Sharma, Vijay Maurya and Santosh Juvekar
Director: Jasmeen K Reen
As the film unfolds, taking us into the life of a young Muslim couple, abusive husband Hamza Shaikh (Vijay Varma) makes us smart and grimacing. Wife Badrunissa (Badru), played by the spunky and playful Alia Bhatt, swings between hope and despair, love and hate, hoping as most battered wives do – that my husband will change in time and love. Is he? Well, we know the answer. So what are his options… File a complaint, dump him or, as his mother Shamshunissa Ansari (Shefali Shah) tells him, feed him rat poison.
Thus, a macabre element is introduced very early… Also getting rid of a ruthless husband is a possibility! But Badru has more empathetic plans and tries to seduce him with a new beginning and a baby… Only men like Hamza, who often attribute their abominable behavior to episodes of alcoholism, are incorrigible.
So, after a tragic twist, mother and daughter decide to take matters into their own hands and inflict brutal treatment on their pet peeve, Hamza. And, by the way, it was flashes of the scenes depicting how they brutalized him that had some sections of social media in turmoil. For all these trollers who participated in the #boycottAlia, let it be said that the film does not justify violence against men. Or women. It’s just an unorthodox way of dealing with a deep-rooted malaise in our society. And don’t miss the pun around the title.
Darlings, an affectionate word, takes on its own twist, and we learn how darlings can be bold too. The tale contains some joyous moments as the women reverse roles and decide to hold Hamza captive. Their accomplices are also men. One is exposed, Zulfi (Roshan Mathew), an aspiring writer, who sells stolen goods to the mother-daughter. The reference to Kasim (Rajesh Sharma) is veiled, but what he was able to do in time to support Shamshu is pretty obvious.
Admittedly, the territory that these two women tread is dangerous and not entirely legal. The way they come out of the mess of their making is pretty hilarious. But if they are caught in a dilemma, the predicament of the director and writers hampers the narrative. How to make a movie relatable or touching without abandoning the moral stance is the conundrum the director seems to be facing.
So as the main characters plot and plan, we as viewers can see the writing on the wall and lose interest. The actors, especially Shefali Shah, sparkle. Her big eyes speak and reflect a world of emotions. It is sure that she is darling! The scene where she turns around when she learns who Zulfi really cares about is a winner all down the line. Alia is equally seductive and once again portrays the many nuances of her role with consummate ease. Vijay Varma as an intractable bad husband also scores well. Not all men are monsters and Roshan Mathew’s Zulfi is an emblem of kindness.
But in the final countdown, the film, which otherwise feels real and believable, doesn’t play the Muslim card, relies on too much guesswork, and makes you want more. Yes, we get karmic justice or taking control of our karma… The choice can be tricky. But the poetic justice that Darlings ultimately serves doesn’t fully gladden your hearts.
(Streaming on Netflix.)