There are films which you find interesting and look forward to writing about them. And there are those that are ordinary and you go through the motions of writing a review. Darlings starring Alia Bhatt that dropped on OTT (skipping a theatrical release surprisingly) falls in the first category. So, right there, you have got the executive summary of this review! For the kind of push-back Bollywood, in the sense – Hindi cinema has been seeing of late, Darlings comes as a redeemer.
The title of the film – Darlings and there is a reason for the plural in it, sets the tone for the film. It is set in a lower middle-class community in Mumbai where the people are all the time aspiring to go up the social ladder. Speaking in Hindi with English words peppered even if it is grammatically wrong is part of this. The story is about a young Muslim couple who has those aspirations but where the husband routinely abuses the wife physically and how the wife after being submissive puts the husband in place in the second half. What works for the film is its treatment of this story written as a dark comedy.
Two things in Darlings work out very well. First is the writing. The screenplay overall and the dialogues in particular are written well. Some fine laugh-out-loud moments stand out. For example, watch out for that scene in the second half when the secretary of the society is told that the consent for redevelopment has been signed by the husband. I am not elaborating further. Similarly, the scenes at the police station. The writing team of Parveez Sheikh, Vijay Maurya, and the director Jasmeet Reen deserve all our kudos.
Second, are the performances. Alia Bhat is on a roll these days. As the wronged wife, she carries forward the Gangubai character just in letter (lingo) in the first half and in both letter and spirit in the second half. But more than Alia, it is Shefali Shah as her mother who steals the thunder. In scene after scene, whether it is her comic timing or her wicked ways, she is outstanding and deserves all the opportunities coming her way in the OTT era. But beyond these two, Vijay Varma who plays the loser and frustrated at work husband is also very good and is a good find. Roshan Mathew, the talented Mallu actor is a surprise cast here but surprises us with a neat performance.
The dialogues and the top-notch performances of the entire cast hide the logical fallacies in the film. For just the second film, Director Jasmeet K. Reen is a promising talent. It is an inspired choice by Alia/Bhatt clan and Sharukh to bankroll this film and back the director and the writing team.
In this year so far, there have been two stand-out films in Hindi – Gehraiyaan and Darlings. The interesting thing is, while the setting in these films is as disparate as “Cheese” and “Salan”, both feature an incident that can be morally questioned and pragmatically justified.
Darlings is a must-watch in my books and two minutes silences for those who called for boycotting this films based on the promos. Oops, the writing got to me as well! Darlings is streaming on Netflix.