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Team darlings gets candid about the success of their film

At last count, the runaway success on Netflix, that marks Alia Bhatt’s debut as producer, had been viewed for over 30 million hours on Netflix

Priyanka Roy  Published 05.09.22, 02:21 AM
(L-R) Monika Shergill, VP content, Netflix, Roshan Mathew, Shefali Shah, Jasmeet K. Reen and Vijay Varma at the #FilmsDay showcase in Mumbai last week

(L-R) Monika Shergill, VP content, Netflix, Roshan Mathew, Shefali Shah, Jasmeet K. Reen and Vijay Varma at the #FilmsDay showcase in Mumbai last week

Darlings is the highest-viewed non-English Indian original film and has the highest global opening for a non-English original Indian film. At last count, the runaway success on Netflix, that marks Alia Bhatt’s debut as producer, had been viewed for over 30 million hours on Netflix. Reason enough for the team — director Jasmeet K. Reen and actors Shefali Shah, Vijay Varma and Roshan Mathew, minus Alia -— to make an appearance at Netflix’s #FilmsDay showcase in Mumbai last week. Post which, The Telegraph caught up with the team at Taj Lands End for a fun and freewheeling chat.

With the success of Darlings and Delhi Crime 2, can we all start off by agreeing that this is Shefali Shah’s world and we are all just living in it?


Vijay Varma: Yes, yes!

Jasmeet K. Reen: We are happy living in her world...

Shefali Shah: Oh my God! Thank you!

Jasmeet: She’s on a roll and hopefully she will be on a roll for the rest of her life...

Shefali: It’s just the beginning! I want to do lots of works! (says in Darlings style and laughs)

Darlings has scored massive viewing hours, grabbed huge eyeballs across the world. But today, the true success of anything you put out lies in how meme-worthy it is. Darlings, especially Vijay’s Hamza, has given rise to a bunch of memes. Do you all recall anything in particular?

Jasmeet: There was one of Hamza during the lockdown where he’s being made to do all household work! (Laughs)

Vijay: Ya, aam kaat raha hain, carrot chheel raha hain.... There is one where Alia and Shefali are whacking me, pushing my head back and combing my hair and the meme said, ‘This is what happens when you wake up late for school!’

Shefali: There was one which said, ‘When I tell mom I haven’t prepared for my exams’, and there was a video of Shamsu (Shamsunissa, played by Shefali) which says, ‘Feeling kab aayegi beta?’

Vijay, how hated is Hamza now?

Vijay: Oh, a lot! Which is great because that’s what we wanted.... The good thing is that most people have been able to segregate the character from the actor. But there are some messages in my DMs which I haven’t looked at and I am sure they are not happy with Hamza! (Laughs) But yes, I have been told how it’s really touched a chord, both men and women were triggered and the role — the way Hamza treated his wife and the way he created dread in the environment — affected people as a whole. His presence is always like a ticking bomb.

I was scared (about the reactions) before release, but later I started having fun with it. The film, as a whole, has received so much love. People can’t stop talking about how Darlings has set a standard for storytelling. Jasmeet is being praised for a first effort at film-making that’s so flawless and to have the conviction to tell a story that’s so dramatic with so much ease that people can actually enjoy the film. All kinds of stuff has been written about Hamza, but I am celebrating it all (smiles).

Roshan Mathew: A lot of people messaged me saying how Vijay managed to find such a great balance in the character that it makes sense why Badru (Badrunissa, played by Alia Bhatt) is still with him. She still has hope. That’s a tricky thing to do. The film also hinges on the fact that Hamza is not fully despicable. There are moments when we can’t help but like him... his charm still somehow comes through. But he’s a terrible guy... and that balance was perfectly achieved by Vijay....

Vijay: That’s actually completely Jasmeet’s credit. Jasmeet wanted Hamza to be a person who just had enough in him for a woman to want to hold on to him.

Jasmeet: When he apologises, he really means it. He’s created with such honesty that a lot of people in the audience felt he would change.

Hamza’s behaviour is triggering because the dynamics of the Badru-Hamza marriage is very relatable to many...

Vijay: Yes, we have got a lot of those reactions. People are still writing in long notes to us of how they have suffered in such marriages.... Some of them have come out of it and are looking at the film in hindsight, but some of them are still in marriages like this, and they are talking about how this cycle of abuse and love bombing is happening in their lives...

Is there anything that you did in the film that you never expected the audience to latch on to but they have?

Jasmeet: So many! That scene where Hamza looks at Zulfi (played by Roshan) as the mother-daughter are hugging and he stands up... that got picked up a lot.

Roshan: My sister spoke about the scene where Shamsu closes the fridge door and there is a slight indication that she knows about Zulfi’s feelings for her...

Shefali: There are those moments between Shamsu and Zulfi which are deliberately but subtly awkward and the viewers have really picked up that....

Vijay: Jasmeet planted a lot of things throughout the film which I really enjoyed as a viewer.... Like the opening shot of going to the theatre and asking for two tickets and then at the end, there is a similar shot of a happy Badru asking for one ticket for herself.

I know someone who used to be an alcoholic, he messaged me saying that Hamza’s trait of coming back home and locking every door and shutting every window is very common among abusers... it shows a tendency to hide.

That says a lot about the audience of today...

Vijay: Man, I love the audience of today!

Shefali: I love the audience... period! They have always been very sharp and sensitive, but we as creators probably didn’t give them that credit. Even the cinema that was made in the ’60s and ’70s, such beautiful stories, so much depth, such performances....

Vijay: Sai Paranjpye’s films ran for 100 days in theatres, even alongside the big-budget films of the time...

Shefali: Look at the groundbreaking films we had way back... Abhimaan, Aradhana, Aandhi, Bawarchi, Bandini, Sholay...

In my pre-release chat with you all, Alia had said that she always wanted Darlings to be a streaming release as opposed to a theatrical one because it is “a little bit of an off-watch”. Given the subject you had and the treatment you opted for, did you have any apprehensions?

Jasmeet: I was hoping the audience would connect, and thankfully they did. We had a few screenings before release for diverse audiences and I was happy that they got the dark comedy and the humour. That’s when I knew that at least the story is landing and people are not getting disconnected with that kind of humour... in fact, they were enjoying it....

We made the film we wanted to make and we hoped it would connect. The first half-an-hour is a bit jarring and it’s supposed to affect you in ways that you cannot imagine.

Is there anything from each of your characters that has stayed on with you?

Vijay: For Hamza, definitely not! (Laughs)

Shefali: Thank God!

Jasmeet: He’s the opposite of Hamza, from whatever I know of him...

Vijay: I think matar chheelna and anda chheelna have stayed with me! (Laughs) All the domestic chores...

Are you applying those skills in life now?

Vijay: Oh ya, ya! They all know how much I love matar!

Jasmeet: During the shoot, he ate one kilo of matar! While he was peeling them, he would keep eating the peas... the assistant (director) had to run and get more matar (Laughs). Even mangoes he would keep eating...

Vijay: What would I do?! I was just sitting in one place, bound with a rope...

Roshan: I would really like to hold on to Zulfi’s innocence. I don’t how he’s made it to the age he is staying that naive, that innocent and so pure!

Shefali: Oh my God, we said the same words at the same time!

Too much chemistry and connection between Shamsu and Zulfi. Jasmeet, why don’t you plan a spin-off with their love story as the focus?

Shefali: You won’t believe, so many people have asked for that!

Vijay: I want Hamza’s ghost to enter that film! (Laughs) It will be so much fun!

Shefali: But answering your previous question, Shamsu is just like me...

Jasmeet: Shamsu has some filter, Shef has none! (Laughs)

Vijay: Wacked-out sense of humour, completely on point.... But she gives terrible advice!

Shefali, if Hamza made it to the world of Delhi Crime, what would Vartika Chaturvedi do with him?

Shefali: First, she would put him behind bars. She would love to bash him but she can’t because cops can’t harm a criminal. She would love to kick his b***s!

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