Friday, August 5, 2022

Darlings: Movie Review

Dark, twisted and insane, but also powerful and clever.

Darlings is Hamza’s pet name for his wife, Badru. But Hamza doesn’t like his wife, he likes controlling his wife. Darlings is a Bollywood dark comedy drama about domestic violence and the women who don’t go quietly into the night. I often find Bollywood films have tonal whiplash from the mashup of genres, but this balances the dark comedy undertones of such a serious subject as well as can be expected.   2022

Directed by: Jasmeet K Reen

Screenplay by: Parveez Sheikh, Jasmeet K Reen

Starring: Alia Bhatt, Vijay Verma, Shefali Shah, and Roshan Mathew

It goes to extremes because this is an insane movie. It’s dark and twisted and the film keeps finding more levels to take the two protagonists to even though they crossed past relatability hours earlier. Badru (Alia Bhatt) is a dutiful Hindu wife who stays home and cooks for her husband and will have dinner ready when he comes home from work, but he always finds an excuse for why he needs to beat her. Alcohol is the prime excuse. Everybody knows what’s happening and they just look away.

Badru’s mother (Shefali Shah) doesn’t want to just sit idly by while her daughter gets tortured on a daily basis and family friend Zulfi (Roshan Mathew) files a complaint at the police station. The police actually seem to believe that Hamza is an abusive husband who beats Badru; the problem is that the procedure to verify the complaint involves calling both husband and wife into the police station at the same time. Hamza pleads with Badru. “You know I only do it because I love you. I promise I’ll stop.” And she believes him. No charges are filed and they go home together.

The depiction of the domestic violence is spot on including Badru’s inability to just leave him. Badru’s mother uses the tale of the scorpion and the frog – the frog trusts the scorpion and helps it cross the river but the scorpion stings it anyways because that’s just what a scorpion does – as a metaphor for Badru’s relationship with her husband.

The movie changes tracks when Badru’s finally had enough and realizes that Hamza is never going to change, and she must become the scorpion if she’s going to survive. Badru and her mother’s adventure into torture techniques is sillier than seems necessary, but this is the dark comedy that the film has been balancing. The movie is also way longer than it should be. There are many ways to tell this same story within the same genre and they would all take a lot less time. However, it’s also likely that this film hits as hard as it does because it never stops short.

Star Alia Bhatt is really good here; from balancing the reality of domestic abuse to the dark comedy revenge stylings of an insane wife and daughter. There’s apparently a subset of viewers who think this glorifies violence against men, but the only way that’s true is if you missed the first hour of Hamza abusing his wife and then missed the shift in Badru’s character when she takes everything to extremes.

Darlings takes an oddly interesting approach to domestic violence by turning it into a dark comedy, but by the end it is a powerful message. The scorpion and the frog metaphor is used perfectly. The film does drag a lot especially with all of the insane diversions taken to extremes.