‘Darlings’ review: Alia Bhatt, Shefali Shah’s film is best enjoyed for its little moments

Women tell stories of women the best. In debutant director Jasmeet K Reen’s ‘Darlings’, a twisted mother-daughter duo not only is the biggest cheerleaders for each other but also each other’s critics. They are both stuck in a complex relationship involving men, yet never are projected as vulnerable. Alia Bhatt and Shefali Shah play spirited women- who despite bad marriages are never willing to give up on life. 

Set in bustling Mumbai, the story of Shamzi(Shah) and Badru (Bhatt) could be any of our stories. It is the story of a protective single mother, always wanting to look out for her daughter, it is about a woman desperately trying to make her marriage work, it is about a man who is not too fond of his mother-in-law, a man who is deeply frustrated at work and who takes it out on his wife every night. Such stories exist in every bylane of India, every nook and corner, in high-rises and shanties, irrespective of class. So what makes ‘Darlings’ hatke? First, the courage to tell the story with such nonchalance and then to spin it around with a dash of humour. 

What is the story of ‘Darlings’

Alia Bhatt and Vijay Verma play a young couple Badru and Hamza. They have had a love marriage but after three years, the marriage has turned sour to a great extent. She is naive and wants a future with him while he is a raging alcoholic who can’t keep his anger in check and hits his wife every other night. Living across them is Badru’s mother Shamzi who has single-handedly raised Badru and cannot see her daughter suffer daily. She advises Badru to leave him every day but the daughter is hopeful to change her circumstance. 

Situations worsen when Zulfi (Roshan Mathew) – the lovelorn, friendly neighbour goes and files a police complaint against Hamza accusing him of domestic violence. Does the complaint finally put an end to Hamza’s beating? Do the couple kiss and make up or do Shamzi and Badru finally let the police put him behind bars forms the rest of the story.

The writing of ‘Darlings’ stands out

The humour in ‘Darlings’ is not in your face. Instead, it’s in the little moments. It is subtle and makes you smirk at the clever writing but never laugh out loud. Written by Parveen Sheikh and co-written by Reen, the film’s detailing, the dialect of the actors, and the character portrayals are so well done that it keeps you hooked throughout its 1 hour 45 minutes run time. The scenes are so engaging and well written. especially, the scene at the police station where the Inspector (Vijay Maurya) and Shamsi and Badru engage a hilarious conversation fuelled by misinterpretations. It’s the kind of scene that you expect to see in Anurag Kashyap’s film where characters are middle in trivial banters for a long time till they find the core point.

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The performances of the cast 

Scenes of Bhatt and Shah, in fact, are all very special. Both gifted actors- complement each other- never overstepping each other’s acting space and emoting majorly through expressions and eyes. It is truly a delight to watch the two gifted actresses attempt a genre like this. The men, Vijay Verma and Roshan Mathew too are equally good in their parts. Verma who shined in his limited screen time in films like ‘Gully Boy’ and ‘Pink’ gets a complex role to play in ‘Darlings’. His Hamza is no ordinary man, a twisted, dark man who vents out his frustration at the workplace through violence at home, he should ideally be the most hated character in the film. Yet, Verma brings in his charm to the character and plays evil with so much style that you end up enjoying his antics- even though you know he is wrong. Mathew on the other hand plays a strikingly opposite character to Hamza. A polite, nice, aspiring writer Zulfi yearns for Badru but is unable to say it out loud. Instead, he willingly gives the mother-daughter company as they plot a devilish plan against Hamza. 

Not just casting, but the film’s music perfectly blends in with the story.’ Dil La Ilaaj’ and the title song especially stand out

While ‘Darlings’ tells an important story, it also loses its humour slightly in the second half. I would have hoped that the film was darker and more twisted, but instead, it focuses more on getting closure for its lead protagonist. 

Co-produced by Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan, the film effectively highlights the abuse that so many women face in their marriages but also raises questions on what is the right way of dealing with a toxic relationship. Should one be vengeful? Or is walking out without giving it back a better call? ‘Darlings’ explore both sides well. 

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‘Darlings’ is also perhaps another step towards stories made for women who are past Bollywood’s conventional role of playing the leading lady. In Shamza, Shefali Shah once again gets a story to deliver – this is the second similar film after the very emotional ‘Jalsa’. Shah emotes through her eyes and sinks her teeth in a character, which appears to be tailor-made for her. The actress is truly outstanding. 

Should you watch ‘Darlings’? Yes, because of its cast, its music and the relevant message it tries to give out. ‘Darlings’ is streaming on Netflix from August 5.