Review of the film Darlings: Alia Bhatt lifts the bar for meaningful cinema
There are a few things that "Darlings," a movie that highlights domestic violence, gets exactly right, the most striking of which is the way it has created its couple—a husband who continues to beat his wife, and the wife who persists in thinking that "ek din woh badal jaayenge," in a curdled mix of hope and desperation (one day he will change).
A serial wife-beater doesn't do it because he's compelled to; rather, he enjoys it. After feeling unmanned everywhere else, especially at work, where he is treated like trash, he feels like a huge guy in his own home. And a lady who continues to ignore the assault while concealing all signs of it with a fake smile.
In that regard, Alia Bhatt and Vijay Varma are perfect in their roles as the beautifully written Badrunissa and Hamza Sheikh, whose 'love marriage' turns into a revolving door of beatings and apologies a few years later. And this is the second important component that feels right: Hamza is overtaken when he sees Badru diligently preparing his pao-omlette breakfast in the daylight. He attempts to make amends with her, but she pushes him away. Finally, he uses the charm that once won her over, and she begins to melt. It's challenging to break the cycle.
The film grips us until we continue to follow the back-and-forth between them in their poisoned world. Few actresses currently working in Bollywood have Bhatt's ability to register moods without saying a word, which shows her emotional temperature beneath her quicksilver mood changes. The great thing about Varma is that he doesn't actually get what he wants because he works as a ticket collector at the bottom of the totem pole in his office for a cheerful bully (Karmakar), therefore he will make sure that no one else gets what they want. All of it is command and control, and he never makes a mistake.
Shefali Shah's performance is the other potent act. She provides her daughter with unwavering support in her capacity as Shamshunissa aka Shamshu, Badru's mother, yet she is more than just a doormat. We witness a mother doing whatever it takes to keep herself afloat, with only passing mention of the arduous task of raising her kid by herself. She is attempting to establish herself, and the exchanges between her and her sincere, attractive partner (Rohan Mathew) as she begins to advertise her services as a home cook provide a little humour to the proceedings. He is also really good, and you want to watch more of them together since they make for an amusing strange couple.
Up until that point, everything is OK. Up until that point, everything is OK. They just happen to be Muslim, and while they are aware of the othering that goes on around them, they are very capable of dealing with it matter-of-factly, conversationally, and clearly. The primary characters are Muslim, living in a chawl with other Muslim characters.
After the intermission, the movie begins to develop its black comedy element in an effort to lighten the "serious" subject of domestic abuse. Mother and daughter come up with awkward ways to exact retribution between making "mirchi ka salans" and hot biryanis. Maurya, a tough-talking cop who is attempting to be helpful, arrives. It's easy to fall into the temptation of adding humour to gloom.
However, the satisfyingly hefty climax saves "Darlings" from going off course. With her debut film, which featured a number of standout performances, Alia Bhatt upped the standard for meaningful films—something that even Bollywood's lost-in-the-woods style can achieve.
Alia Bhatt, Shefali Shah, Vijay Varma, Roshan Mathew, Rajesh Gupta, Vijay Maurya, and Kiran Karmakar star in the film Darlings, which was directed by Jasmeet K Reen and received a 2.5-star rating.