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Darlings Movie Review: Alia Bhatt, Shefali Shah's daughter-mother act is the real star of this dark comedy

India Today logo India Today 05-08-2022 Tushar Joshi

There is a scene in Darlings where Alia Bhatt narrates the story of a frog and a scorpion in almost a fable like fashion. The scorpion asks the frog for a piggyback ride across the river and the frog has trust issues. Eventually the scorpion stays true to its neeyat and stings the frog. This story forms the crux of what is Darlings. Alia Bhatt is the frog whose trust issues with her violent husband, played by Vijay Varma, keep stinging her on the daily.

Helmed by debutante director Jasmeet K Rana, Darlings had one of the most intriguing teaser trailers in recent times. Labelled as a dark comedy, the film deals with the serious issue of domestic violence and abuse. Badru (Alia Bhatt) is a housewife living in a chawl with her husband Hamza (Vijay Varma) who works as a ticket collector. Their daily schedule involves Badru getting kicked, punched and slapped for the small mistakes she makes (leaving raw rice grain in the biryani). Her mother (Shefali Shah), who stays next door, is aware of the abuse her daughter is going through but is unable to do anything about it. Badru's love for Hamza and her addiction to his violent streak is a big contradiction that left us perplexed throughout the film. Once Badru and her mother decide to turn the tables on Hamza, the plot somewhat picks up pace and becomes interesting.

Darlings is not a comedy. It is rather a drama that is laced with intermittent scenes of humour written for its two leads - Alia Bhatt and Shefali Shah. Despite the focus staying on the women, the men in Darlings - Vijay Varma, Roshan Matthew (who plays Zulfi) - have some big moments written for them. In fact, Varma is a scene stealer and so much at ease in showing the grey side of Hamza. He is menacingly abusive, yet you root for him to change and maybe turn over a new leaf with Badru. Similarly, Zulfi's silent love for Badru's mom can only be felt in his gaze and stares that don't need words or phrases. Darlings is a decent effort for a debutant director but the premise had so much scope to give us more twists and turns.

Watch the trailer of Darlings here:

Replay Video

When you have stellar performers like Alia, Shefali and Varma on your roster, the writers should have gone all out to flesh out some meaty stuff for them to bite into. Instead, what we get are some predictable lines and scenes that barely offer a thrill. Badru's rage for Hamza isn't justified. Her love-hate relationship for her physically abusive husband feels bizzare after a point. Even after the big twist that shows a badass Badru seeking revenge, the damp climax is pretty predictable and the film loses the opportunity to become something bigger and better. Also, we wonder how Badru's mother is aware of Twitter trends and social media impact. Her pleads to Badru to leave her abusive husband fall on deaf ears. So, when Badru has a change of heart, the decision to behave differently feels odd.

On the bright side, Alia shines in a role that seems carved out for her. Unlike her last outing Gangubai Kathiwadi, Darlings has its share of light moments. Alia and Shefali's mother-daughter jodi is some brilliant casting and whoever decided to put these two together deserves a raise. Vijay Varma is fantastic and the actor goes for the kill in every scene. Creating an almost claustrophobic environment in a chaw, where most of the story takes place, draws you inside this unpredictable world.

Darlings is a film with a message. It touches upon the subject of domestic violence and addiction. Alia and Shefali's timing and Vijay Varma's acting save Darlings from becoming just another film with a social message.

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