When Badru (Alia Bhatt) rebukes Hamza (Vijay Varma) for acting all innocent after he almost ends up in jail for subjecting her to physical violence, the latter quips, "Socho, main pyaar nahin karta toh maarta kyun? Tum pyaar nahin karti toh sehen kyun karti?" and proceeds to pin the blame on his alcoholism.
This brilliantly penned scene in Darlings gives us a peek into a toxic relationship where the man equates his controlling and violent behaviour to his expression of love and the woman prefers to cling to the relationship, thinking of it as just a 'bad spell'.
Alia Bhatt's latest outing Darlings draws its inspiration from the popular fable of the scorpion who couldn't resist stinging the frog that carried it across the river and adds a 'karmatic' twist to it.
Available on: Netflix
What's Yay: Performances
What's Nay: A Dragged Second Half
Set in the bustling city of Mumbai, Darlings opens with Badrunissa AKA Badru (Alia Bhatt) waiting for her boyfriend Hamza (Vijay Varma), who arrives with a happy news and a pink teddy bear with 'kaha na sorry' written on it. Time for a romantic pose on the busy street, Darlings!
Three years later, we see that pink teddy bear lying in a corner in the balcony of the now-married, Badru and Hamza's house. Its replaced by Hamza's physical abuse which is often perpetuated by his love for his drink. At night, he beats her. In the morning, he praises her for the 'world's best omelette'.
"Kaunsi shaadi mein miyaan biwi ke jhagde nahi hote hain. Sabki patang atakti hain na idhaar. Hum aajke couple hain. Thoda aapse mein rehte hain lovey dovey," he sweet-talks her. Later, when Badru's mother Shamshu (Shefali Shah)'s eyes fall on the bruise on her neck and asks, 'Ab kya ki?' The latter hides it with her braid and forcingly a smile says, 'Kankad', as if she has made peace with Hamza's behaviour.
Until things take a tragic turn one day, and Badru and her fiesty mother Shamshu decide to take the matter into their own hands and decide to adopt an eye for an eye approach. Joining them in this payback is Zulfi (Roshan Mathew), an aspiring writer who sells stolen goods for a living and later, becomes a delivery boy for Shamshu's 'dabba' service.
Debutante director Jasmeet Reen along with writer Parveez Sheikh, pen down a story that brings the topic of domestic violence to the fore. Instead of opting for vigilante thrills that Hindi mainstream cinema generally does, the duo have the demons garbed in laughs and tragedy. Except Zulfi and Inspector Tawde (Vijay Maurya), it's interesting how all the characters are drenched in a certain shade of grey.
While the way the film deals with the concept of 'tit for tat' when it comes to a serious topic like marital abuse could evoke mixed reactions, Reen makes sure to drive home the bigger picture loud and clear.
Speaking about the 'nay', the writing gets repetitive after a certain point in the second half and the free-flowing humour dries up. A few elements come across as half-baked.
After Gangubai Kathiawadi, Alia Bhatt churns out another noteworthy performance in Darlings which proves that there's no stopping for this girl. As Badru, the actress brings in an equal measure of vulnerability and spunk. From love, heartbreak to raging anger, Bhatt embraces every emotion like her own, even when the writing blurs a bit.
Just like how her character Shamshu channels her inner chef to whip up mouth-watering delicacies, Shefali Shah treats us to a deft performance that hits hard even when not given any dialogues. She's mercurial and doesn't fear looking at every hardship in the eye.
But, the show-stealer of the film is Vijay Varma who delivers one of his most engaging performances as Hamza. The way he switches from an absolute terror to all lovey-dovey and vice-versa, keeps you on the edge of your seat. There's a certain sinister-like quality to his character which makes your skin creep.
Roshan Mathew as Zulfi packs a punch when required. The way the makers tease us with his chemistry with one of the characters is impactful albeit brief. The rest of the cast which includes Rajesh Sharma, Vijay Maurya and Kiran Karmarkar, are effective.
Anil Mehta's dexterous cinematography is detailed and a pivotal part of the storytelling. While he settles for the pink-and-blue colour scheme to express the oppression inside the house, there are moments when we see the usage of red-coloured outfits and objects which symbolises Badru's craving for strength and aggression in the confines of her home. Nitin Baid's editing lends just the required amount of tension to the narrative.
Gulzar's lyrics coupled with Vishal Bhardwaj's music lends different moods to the narrative. However, our pick from the album would be Mika Singh's 'Pleaj' which is all things quirky.
In a crucial situation, Shamshu asks Badru, "Jab Allah miya goodlucks baant rahe thhe toh hum log kahan thhe?" To this, she replies, "Shaayad TV pe khaana khajaana dekh rahe the woh bhi headphones pe."
However, when it comes to Darlings, despite a few slip-ups, the makers have luck on their side and they make sure to deliver some absorbing performances on your plate.
We give 3 stars out of 5 to Alia Bhatt-Vijay Varma-Shefali Shah's Darlings.