In the picture

October 30, 2022

Darlings is a dark, quirky take on domestic abuse with outstanding performances from Shefali Shah and Alia Bhatt.

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

Directed by Jasmeet K Reen


peppy song plays in the background. A young woman is waiting for someone outside a cinema. The man is her fiance, Hamza Sheikh (Vijay Varma). He is late and spoils their plan. Apologetic and flirtatious, he charms his way back to her heart within minutes as we learn that they’re getting married within the same year. Love is in the air. The two seem as happy as a couple in love could, would, and should look.

Fast forward to three years later, the young woman is Badrunissa Sheikh (Alia Bhatt) in a typical husband-wife scenario. After cooking, she is serving him dinner. But this love story is more typical than atypical. When he finds a bone (which shouldn’t be there) in his food for the second time within the same scene, he lays his hands on her as it become apparent that domestic abuse is common in this household.

In the same vicinity, almost adjacent to their house and on the same floor, a woman called Shamshunissa (Shefali Shah) also resides. An independent woman, she is Badrunissa Sheikh’s mother and has a sense of humor that carries the film in delightful fashion. It’s not slapstick so much as it is deadpan. The mother disapproves of her son-in-law; the daughter is willing to stay in this love marriage where she hopes to have a child.

Always willing to provide help to the mother-daughter is Zulfi (Roshan Matthew) and (in a cameo performance) a butcher called Qasim (Rajesh Sharma). But this hardly explains the bigger issues within the film.

Hamza Sheikh is an alcoholic whose behavior on any given day is getting drunk and taking out his frustrations on his wife, Badrunissa, who willingly bears it all. A fallout between mother-daughter ensues, courtesy of the gem that is Hamza Sheikh. However, when a pregnancy follows, the film turns into a dark comedy.

Why is Zulfi so keen to help this mother-daughter pair with whatever they need? How on earth does a butcher figure in this story? Can Hamza Sheikh stop the violence in his home, perpetuated by him? When does Badrunnisa realize that her husband will always put her down and never be the man she hoped he could become? Her dreams don’t matter to him.

To give away these answers would be a disservice to any viewer. Watching this narrative unfold is a delight. You might think its another old story in a new bottle. But the dialogues elevate the film as do zingers from the get-go.

Chances are that any viewer might become apprehensive about watching yet another Netflix production, Darlings, after noticing its two hours-plus duration. The film isn’t flawless; editing it down by 20 minutes could’ve made it crisper. However, once you do start watching, it is near impossible to not become invested in the lives of these characters. When you give a good script to actors like Shefali Shah and Alia Bhatt, it will make you pause because of how strong their performance is with good support by actors such as Vijay Varma and Roshan Matthew.

Other cinematic pillars add to the film. Prashant Pillai’s original score echoes the mood of every scene. From the very beginning to the last shot, his music takes the film forward without gaudy dhoom-dhamaka or unnecessary soundscape.

What helps Darlings is its cast who elevate the film to another level. Alia Bhatt, one of Hindi cinema’s biggest names right now, like her older sister Pooja Bhatt, is a natural. You never get the sense that Alia is playing a part in a film. The other protagonist, Shefali Shah, is in the midst of what she has described as the best year in her career.

A selective, award-winning actor, only by watching the film you will realize why Shefali Shah was a great choice for the film after playing the role of a mother to Priyanka Chopra and Ranveer Singh in Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do. The two roles are radically different. This role has nothing in common with her previous works (Delhi Crime, Monsoon Wedding, Once Again, Ajeeb Dastaans, Satya) and puts her front and center with Alia Bhatt.

In the ocean of films that Netflix releases every week, Darlings is one you can bank on for entertainment, deadpan humour and feminist concerns. There must be a reason why Alia Bhatt decided to turn producer for the first time with Darlings and not a film like Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi, which is also available on Netflix. A quirky take on domestic violence, substance abuse, Darlings has emerged as a critic and fan favourite film. To know why millions tuned in, watch the film. Highly recommended!

Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only
*** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection

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