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Darlings Review: Alia Bhatt Netflix Movie Doesn’t Understand What ‘Dark Comedy’ Is

Darlings Review: Alia Bhatt Netflix Movie Doesn’t Understand What ‘Dark Comedy’ Is

Darlings Review: Alia Bhatt Netflix Movie Doesn't Understand What 'Dark Comedy' Is

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Darlings – the new Alia Bhatt movie, out Friday on Netflix – claims to be a dark comedic revenge thriller. In it, a young woman (Bhatt) stuck in an abusive marriage seeks revenge for the years of abuse she suffered from her alcoholic husband (Vijay Varma). When it comes to time, the film is oddly evenly split between the torture Bhatt’s character endures and the plans she concocts after she’s passed her breaking point. But not only does it make you wait too long for the kicker — it takes up half of the film’s 134 minutes — Darlings isn’t quite sure how to raise the stakes and which direction to head in even after that pivotal moment. It continues as before, the narrative momentum never really picking up.

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On some level, that’s because Darlings — directed by debutante Jasmeet K. Reen, from a screenplay she co-wrote with Parveez Sheikh (Queen, BellBottom) — is more of a comedy of errors than a dark comedy honestly. At times, it feels more like a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film, say Gol Maal, than a true dark comedy revenge thriller in its vein, a la Promising Young Woman. Prior to the release, the cast and crew of Darlings attempted to “educate” audiences on the meaning of the term black comedy. But as the Netflix movie shows, they themselves don’t get it either. The result is a tonal imbalance, with Darlings jumping unnecessarily from one genre to another. If you’re doing a dark comedy like you claim, everything has to go that way from minute 1.

Darlings’ inability to choose a path proves that Bollywood is ultimately too scared to go dark. But sometimes it’s not even about big changes, but rather about the order of mixing the ingredients. Take for example a character who hides his trauma behind dialogues that seem pleasant. Except we only learn about it towards the end when the Netflix movie reveals said character’s past. Darlings would have been better off if he had given us this revelation early on. For then, the lyrics of this all-movie character would be taken as comedic by other characters, but they would take on a much darker meaning for the audience. By doing the opposite, the lines are comical for us too. It’s failures like these that ultimately stop Darlings from being who he wants to be.

Everything you need to know about darlings

Three years away from the honeymoon phase and settled in a chawl in the Byculla district of southeast Mumbai, Badrunissa “Badru” Shaikh, née Ansari (Bhatt) is regularly beaten by her abusive husband, Hamza Shaikh ( varma). So much so that those around them have become accustomed to the sounds emanating from their homes each night. Badru thinks Hamza’s drinking – his day starts with a shot – is part of the problem. And it is implied that his government job, where he works as a ticket collector for the railways but is also forced to clean his boss’ toilets, contributes to his frustrations, which he then tackles his wife. Make no mistake though: Hamza is the villain of Darlings, as he manipulates Badru’s emotions and twists facts to suit himself.

While her mother Shamshunissa “Shamshu” Ansari (Shefali Shah) told Badru she had to get away from Hamza from day one, Badru thinks she can fix it. Darlings never really clarifies if it’s because she loves him in some weird way, or if it’s because she’s dedicated to his big plan. Badru has planned years of her life: first child in 2020, a big house in 2021, a second baby in 2022 and a car in 2024. That’s why she keeps pushing Hamza to sign on the dotted line for the plan. redevelopment proposed by a builder. (that would no doubt gentrify the place and push them back, although the Netflix movie never really touches on that). This only serves to irritate Hamza further, and Badru realizes that she must come up with a plan to fix it permanently.

But no matter what she tries, Hamza shows no desire to do better except for empty promises. And when her anger goes too far one night, Badru accepts that changing her husband is impossible. Well, for 10 minutes anyway. Darlings has this particular problem where its protagonist keeps swinging between Hamza-has-gone-too-far and I-still-care-for-Hamza. While Badru feels too passive for the first hour, she’s too aimless for the second, even though the character is meant to come into her own. But the character’s transformation — from naïve, innocent young woman to powerful, driven, and in control — is repeatedly undermined by the Netflix film’s desire to create comedic bits, many of which feature a police officer (Vijay Maurya).

Darlings, MorbiusThe Sandman and more on Netflix in August

Minor plot spoilers follow.

And that’s how Darlings turns into a comedy of errors. At the start of the second act, as Badru ponders how to fix her husband, his mother says she should just kill him. When Shamshu receives a call from the police a minute later, the mother-daughter duo panic, thinking the police somehow heard them. 🤦‍♀️ The following scene belongs more to Hera Pheri. Later, after Badru decides to teach Hamza a lesson, Hamza’s boss – the same guy who makes him clean the toilets – starts asking about him. The scene that follows also belongs more to Hera Pheri. Even later, as Badru wonders what to do with Hamza (who is sitting tied to a chair in their apartment), the mother and daughter decide to file a missing person’s complaint. Why attract that kind of spotlight on yourself?

The only thing that saves them from being caught in the act is a naïve decision by Zulfi (Roshan Mathew), a young man who revolves around Shaikhs and Ansaris, much like he skims over the Netflix movie. Mathew need not exist in this story, as his presence is more or less tertiary compared to Darlings. Zulfi is important to the plot and his machinations, but he doesn’t have much to do.

Beyond comic misapplication, what dooms Darlings is its misunderstanding of narrative approach and character continuity. After Hamza falsely promises to rectify his ways, a following scene is lovingly framed, filled with a musical montage. It’s understandable that Badru is deluding himself, but why is the movie wrong too? Elsewhere, while the Netflix film never explores the trauma some characters carry, along with most others, it’s left out. They don’t carry their trauma – as they rightly would – from scene to scene. It’s crucial to the film because it helps make its comedic bits mellow, but it creates dissonance in the minds of the audience.

Like the execution of the film’s ideas, the ending is also confusing. On the one hand, it indicates that Darlings is a moral universe. But in his search for a thought-provoking ending – we get a full-screen PSA, inside a movie – the Netflix movie essentially turns Badru into Alia Bhatt. At least Darlings ends in cinema. Something the film was made for – you can feel the “gap” that was timed for Badru’s “transformation” – before it was moved to streaming. It’s interesting that Netflix ended up being the destination, as Red Chillies, owned by Shah Rukh Khan, is a producer here.

Cherished at Laal Singh Chaddhathe 7 biggest movies of august

Alia Bhatt and Vijay Varma in Darlings
Photo credit: Netflix

In late 2017, Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings personally went to Shah Rukh Khan’s court, asking his Red Chillies banner to produce movies and series for his platform. I imagine it was in hopes that such a deal might one day lead to a Netflix movie starring India’s sweetheart. That dream never materialized, with the deal slowly dying as Red Chillies churned out bottom-of-the-barrel content for Netflix – remember the Emraan Hashmi-directed Bard of Blood, the zombie horror miniseries Betaal or the Bobby Deol-directed crime thriller Class of ’83? – over the years.

While Darlings might seem like a throwback to that era, it’s (most likely) not. Red Chillies hasn’t produced an original for Netflix since 2020. And more importantly on Darlings, it’s a co-producer alongside Eternal Sunshine, the new banner from debut producer Bhatt. Darlings is the start of her Alia Bhatt business – and Netflix is ​​no doubt praying that this collaboration will prove more fruitful than the last.

Darlings premieres Friday, August 5 at 12:30 p.m. IST on Netflix worldwide.


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