This dark comedy is unconventional for how it neither makes comedy out of its darkness, nor at the expense of it. Instead, the darkness and comedy operate separately. Narrative-wise, the latter follows the former. For the initial half an hour, it’s a dark story of an abusive husband and the length and breadth of the trauma he’s inflicting upon his wife. The comedic portions begin once the story gets to the character’s payback time. The treatment can be called light, or poised, but it never makes light of its subject. Debutant director Kasmeet K. Reen shows ample control over the pacing of her scenes, and isn’t in a hurry with moving between the setpieces.

Alia’s younthful energy and Shefali’s experience make for an engaging pairing here. There’s a scene where the mother in Shefali Shah, is able see through her daughter (Alia), falling into a trap that rhymes with mistakes from her own past. She conveys it with a mere stare, something so sharp and consistently effective that it’s becoming a familiar feature in her performances. On the other hand, Alia does a good job at making her lack of self-awareness, believable. We’re able to sympathise with her character as she falls into repetitive patterns, and her moves of payback are entertaining, if not stirring. This role plays to all her strengths, but also doesn’t give her scope to break new grounds. Vijay Varma gets the meatiest role of the lot, and he does a solid job at swinging between sweet-talker and a loathsome manipulator.

Some of the dialogues don’t sound authentic to the setting but they work within the comic lightness of the film. There are a handful of fourth wall breaking elements, with the uncharacteristic “twitter” mention, incosistent pronounciation, and the generous product placements. But that the film borderline plays out like a clever PSA on abusive relationships, these aberrations don’t quite diminish the narrative’s intentions.

The time given to sensitively establishing an abuser’s methods is the best thing about Darlings. Letting this setup play out at a poised pace gives a good weight to when the tables are turned. But that being said, the film quite doesn’t rise above its neatness, for there’s a lack of punch in its characters’ final moments. Hamza’s goodwill has the goodness of a Pixar story in a film that’s trying to function in a darker zone. No problems with the foreshadowing done until then, the character development is on point, but I also feel a darker alternative could’ve granted more edge to the film.

In addition to likeable subplots surrounding the cops and Zulfi’s crush, there are also likable micro-stories at play, like the presence of superstitions (bird poop, black cat), the parlour lady, rhyming imagery (low-angle of looking down the stairs, the red dress). These are the elements that keep the film alive beyond its simplistic narrative. On the whole, this a rather straightforward film, both in terms of narration and its presentation. No gimmicks, just simple storytelling that relies on the weight of its subject and the actors handling it.


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