Darlings Hindi Movie
Writer-director Jasmeet K. Reen's Darlings is a satire about a woman in an unhealthy marital relationship. Alia Bhatt's Badru is a victim of domestic abuse. Badru's husband Hamza Shaikh, played by Vijay Varma, abuses her mentally and physically. But Badru believes that Hamza's drinking problem is making him do it. Hamza keeps reminding her that she tolerates the abuse because she loves him. Hamza is a person of low self-esteem who gets treated poorly by his superiors, which explains his actions against his wife.
Hamza is a bit callous and good at changing colors quickly, like a chameleon. The man goes to bed after beating his wife and wakes up the next day casually, as if nothing has happened. This man is a personification of male toxicity.
Shefali Shah plays Shamsu, Badru's mother. Shamsu has a tragic backstory, and she keeps telling her daughter to leave Hamza. Badru endures the ordeal while expecting that the arrival of a child will change her man from being a wife-beater. But a point comes where she can no longer take it.
Darlings deals with a grim subject matter, but writer-director Reen mines moments of hilarity from its circumstances. A scene in a police station is particularly hilarious for the way it makes fun of Indian society's perspective of domestic abuse. A cop casually says that men control women because the latter let them do it. As if to say, it is all on women. The message alone is far from being funny, but the way the whole scene plays out in the movie is hilarious. Darlings is also a film that talks about poetic justice.
There is a hiccup or two in the second half where the film seems to go south. Often, the treatment of the film makes you wonder whether the makers are taking things too far. For instance, the climax set in a railway station seems a bit contrived and a bit of a stretch, although I was reasonably satisfied with the upshot. A metaphorical story about a frog and a scorpion is repeated twice in the film. Nevertheless, what keeps the film grounded and consistently engaging is the performances.
Alia Bhatt is a terrific actor. She imbues her character with a state of being vulnerable and feisty virtually at the same time. Watch how she hesitates to open the door as Hamza comes with a fit of anger. Watch how casually she stabs the sharp edge of her footwear between Hamza's fingers. It is an exquisite performance.
Vijay Varma also gets a great character with much scope to perform. Vijay's character oscillates between being controlling and helpless. The actor maintains a fine balance between being creepy and funny. At the hands of a lesser actor, it could have easily been campy. He performs in a way that reminds you of veterans like the late Irrfan Khan.
Shefali Shah's mere stares even convey a lot about what her character makes of her daughter and son-in-law. Our familiarity of her characters being good elsewhere, may not help much regarding how we view the aggressive streak of Shamsu. But the actor is convincing at whatever she does here.
Roshan Mathew is also wonderful as an odd-job man who helps Shamsu with her food service business. Mathew's silences and pauses convey the delightful twists and turns that his character will undergo.
Anil Mehta's camera also shows the confined nature of the living spaces of these characters. On the other hand, Mellow D and Vishal Bhardwaj's music provides the film with just enough quirks where necessary.