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Darlings Is  A Delightfully Blithe Look At Domestic Abuse





Starring Shefali Shah, Alia Bhatt,Vijay Varma.Roshan Mathew

Directed by Jasmeet Reen

Rating: ****

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  elan 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 are 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.

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