Debutant director Jasmeet Reen’s Darlings is an adorably seductive concoction about two women, mother, and daughter if you will, who decide to get rid of the man who insists on raining on their parade.
The droll premise is fodder for the darkest shades of comedy. Reen, who comes into directorial élan with very little pre-warning, styles a marital fable that is at once twisted at able. No one has ever thought of doing a film on marital violence where the abused wife and her mother get together to squeeze the life and breath out of the man who thinks it is his birthright to flare up on his wife when she inadvertently leaves a bone or two in the chicken biryani. Or, worse still, when she orders stilettos online.Tauba!
Ah, the stilettos! Who would have thought they could be used in such unexpected ways to get even? Even the smallest of object acquires a vigorous meaning in this work of ouch which is all about getting even against all odds.
The writing is done in broad strokes, subtlety not being too much in demand among the characters who inhabit this world where only thick skinned survive, to highlight the humour that underlines what Tolstoy described as the “tragedy of the marital bed.” Interestingly Jasmeet Reen’s story of an underprivileged Muslim housewife never quite makes it to the bedroom. We never know how abusive Badru’s husband Hamza(Vijay Varma) gets when the light is out, and the defences are down. It’s a frightening thought.
The end-result does look somewhat sanitized, cleaned out for the sake of Netflix’s home viewership, which may not be happy watching physical abuse in graphic detail. Reen nonetheless generates a throbbing imminent dread each time Badru’s husband comes home drunk.
And of course Alia Bhatt as the abused wife is gloriously spot-on. Charming and a little annoying in her insistence on taking the hard knocks of life on her chin,literally. It isn’t difficult to shine in a role that’s tragic, sassy, funny and brave. I would give more credit for performance to Vijay Varma as her husband. Varma has a thankless job. But he miraculously manages to humanize Hamza , making him a victim at work. Forced to wash his boss’ toilet every morning,Hamza believes he has every right to get drunk and beat up his wife if,well, life is so unfair to him. Good one.
For a plot that gets hot only when the ladies are around, the men are fairly sharply drawn. Even a small part like that of Hamza’s boss is rendered interesting by the actor who plays him(Kiran Karmarkar).
But my favourite male character is the poor exploited Zulfi played by the wonderful Malayali actor Roshan Mathew. Zulfi is used by the mother and daughter Shamshunissa and Badrunissa, known among the chawl wallahs as simply Shamshu and Badru, because he chooses to be used by them. It’s not the same as Badru’s domestic abuse. There she has no choice.
This brings me to the two ladies who run the show. Shefali Shah and Alia Bhatt’s mother-daughter act is so slyly self-serving we never know when these two women go from victim to perpetrator. Both the actresses helm the proceedings with a commanding force. They are both brilliant. But even Alia Bhatt would agree that Shefali Shah steals the show every time.
Shefali’s Shamshu is what Badru would describe as ‘Too cools.’
“Jab Allah Miya Good Lucks baant rahe tthe toh hum kya kar rahe tthe?” Alia asks her screen mom.
Sharpening your claws? Catty, lissom relevant, wicked and funny, Darlings ticks all the boxes and is a beast of its own kind. As Badru would probably say,Darlings you cannot affords to miss this films.