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How Darlings director Jasmeet K. Reen made a film everyone is talking about at her first attempt

‘I learnt to follow my gut,’ says the first-time director, after working with experienced actors like Alia Bhat, Shefali Shah and Vijay Varma

Ratnalekha Mazumdar Calcutta Published 18.08.22, 03:44 PM
(Left) Darlings director Jasmeet K. Reen with her Badrunissa (Alia Bhatt) and Hamza (Vijay Varma)

(Left) Darlings director Jasmeet K. Reen with her Badrunissa (Alia Bhatt) and Hamza (Vijay Varma) Instagram and Netflix

First-time director Jasmeet K. Reen doesn’t look and sound like a debutante. Netflix’s Darlings is evidence. Jasmeet is aware that every filmmaker has a voice and if people can connect to it, there is no better feeling. Working with big stars and big production houses couldn’t shake her much, as she strongly believes that she knows the script and the story better than anybody else on the sets.

While soaking in her new-found success, Jasmeet talks to TT Online about how films mirror society and can start a conversation, how she created an endearing mother-daughter relationship with Alia Bhatt and Shefali Shah, and how she collaborated with Vijay Varma to create Hamza, one of the most menacing characters on screen ever.


Congratulations! Darlings has great numbers on Netflix. How are you soaking in the heart-warming feedback?

Jasmeet: I am so happy that people are connecting with the film. Everyone is watching it and we are getting a lot of love.

A lot of women could relate to the film…

Jasmeet: I am hearing from a lot of people that they are feeling very inspired and that they have seen this happen and are so glad that a film on such a subject has been made. They loved the ending, which is great.

Without being preachy, your film throws light on pressing issues. A film can start a conversation. Do you think Darlings has done that and was it your motive as a filmmaker?

Jasmeet: Films represent society. It mirrors society. It tells you what’s happening around, and you build characters on what you have heard of and seen. It’s a mix of experiences that you have as a writer and a creator. Something that you have seen somewhere or read somewhere. A film should say something, and the intention is to start a conversation. That’s what a film can do, and I am so happy that we are successful in starting a conversation and that everyone is talking about it, which is the most important thing.

You must have heard it before that you don’t come across as a first-time director. Where do you find this confidence?

Jasmeet: I am hearing it a lot, which feels very nice. (Smiles) I have worked with so much focus for so many years that I just had to make it happen this time and I just gave it my best shot. I had put my head down and I was true to the story. I gave all I had, which is how films should be made, which is what I had done.

You know every filmmaker has a voice and if people can connect to it, there is no better feeling. A director is the keeper of the arc. Even when everybody is more experienced than you on the sets, because it’s your first film, and others have done a lot of work. So, when a director walks in, it’s one’s duty to direct in the right direction.

You get a lot of suggestions from actors, and some are brilliant, but you must filter out what is not required for the film. You must filter in what works best for the story and the character arc, that is what I learnt. I also learnt to follow my gut as you know your story the best. You know your characters best as you lived with them for long before directing. As a writer also, you live with it for so long, so if you give your best, you know the best. I told myself on the first day of the shoot that when you have 140 people on the sets who are more experienced than you, but you know your script the best and your story the best, nobody can know it better than you. That’s your job and responsibility as a director.

How did you manage to get such a stellar cast? Were Alia Bhatt, Vijay Varma and Shefali Shah your first choice to play the roles?

Jasmeet: You won’t believe me, but yes. It’s a dream come true. Alia is the one I went to first and I took it to Red Chillies (Entertainment). She is on many people’s lists because she is so talented, and she is a star. Once Alia liked it as an actor and came as a producer, it was great for us. Vijay was always on my mind. As a writer, I would think who the best Hamza would be and thought of Vijay Varma, and one day, Alia said, ‘What about Vijay?’ and then it just really happened.

Shefali, I didn’t know. I met her because of Darlings. Once I met her, I knew that she would be a cracker Shamshunissa because she is as spunky as her. She has no filter as she speaks her mind, and we needed that quality for Shamshunissa. She also connected with the script very well as she has never done a comedy. Maybe Dil Dhadakne Do… a little as a film but not as a character. It was very exciting for her, and I was very excited that wonderful people came on board for Darlings.

Watching Shefali Shah and Alia Bhatt in full flow from behind the camera, were there any wow moments that took even you by surprise?

Jasmeet: So many, ya! When Alia and Shefali ask each other ‘Kya plan hai’ even when we had done readings. We can rehearse lines but for chemistry, as for me, you shouldn’t rehearse. Chemistry happens in front of the camera. Happy accidents or whatever you call it. These two actors are very spontaneous and experienced and that ‘Kya plan hai’ thing is a cracker because they came up with their eyebrow movements. There would be back and forth as this one would work and the other wouldn’t. Sometimes it used to happen magically, and it used to click. That was fun and then the banter between them was wow all the time, along with the comic timing. They would look at the cop, say the lines, and crack up and laugh all the time. (Smiles)

Alia Bhatt and Shefali Shah in Darlings on Netflix

Alia Bhatt and Shefali Shah in Darlings on Netflix Twitter

What was your preparation and process to make Vijay Varma so intimidating as the audience is literally on the edge of their seats thinking of his next move?

Jasmeet: Yes, the idea was to make him this unpredictable and what will happen and what he will do rather than see him do it. That was exactly what the preparation was. One had to flesh out his motivations, his past life, who he is, and what he believes in. He believes he is doing the right thing. He feels he is the right husband for Bandru and she will never find a better one. He also feels he is entitled. He has grown up around violence and he feels it’s okay to be like this and Badru is the only thing that goes right in his life and makes him human, so the prep was to make him right on the character sketch on paper.

Vijay and I also discussed at length, so we used to keep talking about Hamza’s shades, his insecurities, and how lack of love makes people grey or flawed or do wrong things. The idea was to make him grey, and not black. I prepped with all the actors individually a lot before the shoot. It was how he stares at people and how he stares people down. Then, how he would be with his wife and his mother-in-law, how he would be when drugged and drunk. The second half was less reactive, but he had to be fun. He was tied to a chair and matar chheel raha hai (peel and shell green peas). The humour had to land and I had to transfer all my knowledge to Vijay who would give it life.

What are your favourite moments from Darlings?

Jasmeet: It’s very difficult! It’s like choosing between children. I like the moment at the cop station where Hamza and Badru are there, turned away from each other and standing against the wall. Both realise that there are so many dilemmas, and both are so broken. I love the moment in the car where everything unfolds, and everything is quiet when the mother tells the daughter that she did the right thing because at that moment she talks about her past. After Hamza’s death, when the mother-daughter look in the mirror in white, they look healed as if they are free. I like that moment a lot.

How do you think it would have done at the theatres?

Jasmeet: I feel when you tell a story, a lot of people should watch it. Even now, when I know it has reached so many households, I still ask whether they have seen the film because as a filmmaker, I want people to watch it. The film has done its job. I feel if it’s a film you need to find, you will find it and watch it wherever and whichever screen it is on. With Netflix, you have the advantage of releasing in 190 countries, which is great for us, and we are getting statistics that people are watching it everywhere, so that makes me damn happy

What was Alia’s input as a first-time producer?

Jasmeet: On set, she was an actor but, of course, when I told her that I want to play with the sound, she asked me to go for it. She empowers a director and that’s the best quality about it and that makes her a fabulous producer.

What was your producer Shah Rukh Khan’s reaction after watching Darlings?

Jasmeet: He liked it. He said, ‘Tune toh bahut achhi picture bana li! He liked the film and he had heard the script. Given his experience and his wit as he is so funny and witty, he connected with the film. I am very happy that he liked it.

How would you introduce yourself to people who don’t know much about you apart from the fact that you are the creator of the fabulous film Darlings?

Jasmeet: I would introduce myself as a storyteller. Before Darlings, I had written another script, which is a very different genre. I love to write and make films. I was trying to make it, but it was taking some time and then I started Darlings because the story came to me, and I thought it would be damn exciting. Darlings fell in place before, so I started making it. I was in advertising, and it took me some years to find something that I love to do. I am lucky that I can do this every day.

You have also worked with Sanjay Leela Bhansali?

Jasmeet: The other script I wrote, he was supposed to produce it.

Was it based on the love story between poet Sahir Ludhianvi and novelist Amrita Pritam?

Jasmeet: Yes, Gustakhiyan.

Looking back, anything you would change if you could?

Jasmeet: No. (Smiles)

We have jotted a few viewer points, for which we would like your counterpoints.

Darlings should have had 15 minutes less runtime.

Jasmeet: I am happy with this cut, ya.

The manner of Hamza’s death at the end was predictable and convenient.

Jasmeet: I thought it’s unpredictable that’s why I did it.

With Hamza gone, will Badru ever find love?

Jasmeet: Badru did it for respect and she didn’t have to ask it from a man like Hamza and she is free, whether she will find love or won’t find love for us to see. I will figure this out, maybe she will.

Among the product ad placements, Alia’s Badrunissa using a premium-priced product like Kama Ayurveda in a Byculla community house is out of place.

Jasmeet: There is an iPhone that Badru uses. Hamza stole it off a dead body, so if we didn’t know about it, then? I met a lot of people when I researched for the film. I saw people in Byculla have so many things like sneakers which I don’t have. There is something in their cupboard or on the dressing table which is very aspirational.

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