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Darlings, starring Alia Bhatt, should be on your Netflix watchlist

Domestic violence has now become a regular talking point in films and television shows, many of which hope to empower those affected. Unfortunately, domestic violence hasn’t always been properly addressed in South Asian films, something newer films are really taking a stand on.

Alia Bhatt’s latest Netflix film darlings is one such contender, one who really takes a different turn when it comes to tackling domestic violence.

And I mean really different.

The film follows Badrunissa ‘Badru’ Sheikh (Alia Bhatt) as she makes crucial and difficult life decisions to adjust to her life and marriage to Hamza (Vijay Varma), with moral support from her mother Shamshunissa (Shefali Shah) and her friend Zulfi (Roshan Mathew). It’s a tale of adversity, self-destructive optimism and naivety, all packaged and delivered in dark comedy-satire that leaves you hanging.

I’m a huge fan of Alia Bhatt, especially after her last appearance in Gangubai Kathiawadiso it’s not surprising that this film resonated with me just as well.

(LR) Alia Bhatt as Badrunissa 'Badru' Sheikh and Vijay Varma as Hamza Sheikh in 'Darlings'.  Courtesy of Netflix © 2022.
(LR) Alia Bhatt as Badrunissa ‘Badru’ Sheikh and Vijay Varma as Hamza Sheikh in ‘Darlings’. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022.

Tough subject, masterfully presented

Domestic violence is not an easy topic these days. Productions need to be sensitive to social constructs, especially now with the #MeToo movement, the needs for justice and social education.

This is even more difficult when considering the issues of violence against women in India and other South Asian countries.

Director Jasmeet K Reen – who is also on the writing team with Parveez Sheikh and Vijay Maurya (dialogue) – has done an excellent job on her feature film debut.

Satire has played an important role in how audiences experience this film. When characters joke about dire circumstances, you almost think more about the situation. This is amplified by the sheer brilliant performance of each performer. While the narrative had some predictable flows, there were other times when the narrative took a very unexpected direction. I enjoyed that because it kept me engaged from scene to scene.

I also appreciated that violence is not always literally on display, but rather suspected in the background. The only violence seen plays a central role in character development, especially towards the end of the film. I think that’s smart and respectful of the subject and the characters.

My only criticism would be that I felt like there was a part of the movie somewhere in the middle where the pacing was slowed down quite a bit. I felt like the story dragged on a bit which was a bit disappointing as otherwise the film keeps you engaged from the start.

Anyway, kudos to Reen for a good feature debut darlings. I look forward to seeing more of her work later.

Shefali Shah as Shamshunissa in Darlings.  Courtesy of Netflix © 2022.
Shefali Shah as Shamshunissa in Darlings. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022.

Brilliant and bold cast

I don’t have to write much about this section as the title pretty much speaks to how I’m feeling…but I’ll do it anyway.

Despite so many big names being associated with the project, the film itself has a very independent cinematic feel to it. I love these types of films that come out of Indian cinema as they explore subjects that I think a lot of South Asians would like to see and think about.

With this movement comes an opportunity to truly experience a variety of talent. I think the casting in this production was A+.

Ali Bhatt. I mean what else can I say? I feel like she has entered a world of her own with her recent indie vibe productions. She’s talented and brilliant, and it shows darlings. Her character is fragile in many ways, which makes her development through the film even more sinister. While each cast member took on the satire of the production, Bhatt was the satire queen in this film.

The very talented Shefali Shah delivered a remarkable experience as Badru’s mother Shamshunissa. Smart but sincere, loving but full of anger; It was a character you thought would have so much to say but just couldn’t.

Roshan Mathews Zulfi is the kind of boyfriend everyone wants. Respectful, honorable, helpful and sincere. I wanted to give the character a high five in the middle of production!

Then there is Vijay Varma’s hamza. I’ve never met a character I hated more and an actor I loved more, all at the same time. You were convinced he was a domestic abuser but couldn’t help but hope that karma would make him change. His character was often the mood-maker in various scenes, and that alone explains how powerful his performance was.

Roshan Mathew as Zulfi in Darlings.  Courtesy of Netflix © 2022.
Roshan Mathew as Zulfi in Darlings. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022.

Bright future for Indian cinema

darlings is Bhatt’s debut as a producer. She and sister Shaheen founded Eternal Sunshine Productions back in 2021 with the goal of telling stories “that are warm, meaningful, thought-provoking and timeless”.

This is a new era for Indian cinema, where the next generation of talent and filmmakers are helping to define the landscape and the types of media the industry produces. Using platforms like Netflix, it’s great to see South Asian productions gain international spotlight and recognition from the other film communities and viewers.

darlings is a great example of a film driven by passion rather than a calculated agenda. You can feel it in the way the film was made and delivered. It lacks the characteristic brackets seen in mainstream Indian films and does not shy away from themes that might otherwise be frowned upon by audiences.

I like this.

It adds to the narrative that Indian cinema has a bright future and I can’t wait to see more talent shaping it with each new production that appears on the horizon.

I highly recommend you to see darlings for a different Indian cinema experience. It places performance and compelling narrative above the corporate agenda and tells a story that is meaningful and thought-provoking.


darlings now streaming worldwide on Netflix.

Cover: Alia Bhatt as Badrunissa ‘Badru’ Sheikh in darlings. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022.

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