Darlings, the new Alia Bhatt-starrer, is streaming on Netflix and within days, the dark comedy has sparked a conversation among audiences.
The film focuses a mother-daughter duo (played by Alia and Shefali Shah), who exact revenge upon the daughter's abusive husband (Vijay Varma) by subjecting him to the same torture. Despite the intense plot, the film chooses to take a comic approach, balancing the intensity with laughs. Alia, Vijay, and the film's director Jasmeet K Reen speak with me about walking this tightrope.
Alia says that not being method actors helped her and Vijay stay cordial on sets. "We were not laughing ha ha in the middle of that. But overall our vibe on set was quite comfortable. We are not really method actors so we were not really being aggressive with each other BTS," she says with a laugh.
Vijay, however, says he was worried about not unintentionally hurting Alia in the scenes where his character Hamza had to hit Alia's character Badru. He says, "I remember because it was a physically powerful exchange, I wanted to make sure the other actor is not hurt or even felt wrong. I was very clear that I will come and grab your shoulder so be ready for this. That kind of thing was happening. Between the husband and wife, there aren't many funny moments but the drama beats are great, which we were feeding off each other incredibly. But yes, we discussed the choreography of the scenes so that our moves and moods reflect in the work that we were doing."
Vijay Varma's character Hamza isn't the proverbial monster. The film depicts a more human picture of the wife beater, showing his frailties and vulnerabilities as well. Talking about the reason behind it, the actor says, "It's a reflection of life. It's something that we have seen, heard, discussed and therefore it becomes very human. And human beings are anything but black and white. We figured out what is the shade of the character. It's slightly on the darker side. Not just in the equation with his wife, he is personally not at a good place in his life. He is insecure; he has an inferiority complex with him. But he overcompensates for that as a defence mechanism. There is one thing that he feels is working in his life and he wants to hold on to that with all his might is the wife."
Similarly, Alia's Badru also has shades of grey as she decided to extract revenge and kill her abuser. Talking about the depiction of domestic violence in the film, Alia says, "It's not the quintessential villain and someone is right and other is wrong. It's just the choices you make in life. Maybe had he changed, they could have had a happily ever after. But there was a point at which he chose to push and this venomous side of his was overbearing the side of him that she loves."
But tackling such a sensitive issue in a film that is essentially a comedy is a tough task. It poses the risk of being flippant or insensitive to the plight of domestic abuse survivors. Director Jasmeet says, "I think if you are sensitive towards that issue, it will show in whatever you write or create as an artiste. So you have to be sensitive. Yes, one wanted to tell it as a dark comedy because inherently in the story, it was always that way for me, about a mother-daughter finding themselves in this male-dominated world. I was also conscious that I wanted to entertain and engage audience so that the reach is wider and message travels that far."
In the film, Alia's character is shown to be a meticulous planner with a vision board for her future, something Alia says she could not relate to. In fact, the actor says her life has never gone according to plan. "I have never had a year-wise plan at all. In fact, I don't even know how years have gone by sometimes. It's almost like how is it December! There's no plan. Also, I feel nothing goes according to plan. The only constant in life is change. I have a fear adapting to too much change but then the pandemic came and put us all in our place and said deal with it. Even in school, when I made schedules, I spent most of my time rewriting those time tables because I never stuck to any of it. That's not who I am," she says.
Darlings, co-produced by Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies Entertainment, released on Netflix on Friday, 5 August. Apart from Alia, Vijay, and Shefali, the film also stars Roshan Mathew. It has garnered positive reviews and initial fan reactions as well.