Starring: Alia Bhatt, Shefali Shah, Vijay Varma, Roshan Mathew, Rajesh Sharma
Director: Jasmeet K. Reen
A dark comedy is not the usual fare dished out by Bollywood and with the mega talented Alia Bhatt and Shefali Shah in the lead, this new release came with a certain promise of something out of the box.
Badrunissa, or Badru as she is known, () is a film-loving young girl with a well-devised plan for marital bliss once her boyfriend Hamza Sheikh (Varma) lands a reliable job. Hamza’s love for her too seems to fit right in with this life plan, as he instantly proposes to her the moment he lands a government job as a ticket collector for Mumbai railway.
The frame skips forward a few years to show the now-married couple in their home in a chawl, or social housing tenement, where Badru’s mother Shamshunissa (Shah) is their next-door neighbour. It soon becomes clear that Hamza is not best pleased about having his mother-in-law so close by, especially as the mother and share a pretty indestructible bond.
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However, he’s on a somewhat of a back foot due to an alcohol problem, which is serious enough that he can’t start his day without a few swigs from the bottle. The more sinister aspect of his addiction manifests in regular wife-beating. The routine of a drink-fuelled rage landing Badru with a black eye or worse seems to be the open secret of the chawl.
While Shamshu wants Badru to walk out on her husband and the , her daughter displays the classic denial signs of a domestic violence victim as she regularly buys into her husband’s seemingly genuine remorse in the sober light of day. Will Badru take her mother’s half-serious advice of finding the best poison for the wife-beater or will she find another way to deal with her alcoholic husband?
As expected at the outset, this is certainly not a run of the mill film. It is lifted several levels by tenacious performances by Bhatt and Shah, with Varma also doing full justice to his rather villainous character. The supporting cast, especially Roshan Mathew as a reliable friend Zulfi, is equally adept in their respective roles and the haunting melodies of Vishal Bhardwaj strike just the right musical note.
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The script and direction are well devised, creating some tense moments as the audience begins to fear those ugly scenes of domestic violence. However, the script does let down the actors in parts when it tends to meander somewhat in trying to keep hold of the narrative. There is an attempted nod to Pedro Almodovar’s female-centric films such ‘Volver’, but ultimately ‘Darlings’ fails to emulate much of the genius of the Spanish auteur.
That said, there is a lot going for this well-paced dark comedy, which will keep you hooked till the very last shocking frame.