What If #5: Darling

Ages ago, I took an undergraduate elective on Shakespeare along with two of my friends. We were probably the three most interested students in our class, and had a great deal of fun discussing the Bard on hot Wednesday afternoons over shikanji at the Sky Lawns. One of our assignments was to write a paper on some aspect of Shakespeare we were interested in exploring. I picked a somewhat ambitious topic: Absurdist elements in Shakespeare’s plays. In my most charitable mood, I would describe my paper as complete and utter crap. But that’s besides the point.

My friend Mallu picked a somewhat strange sounding topic, a line from Hamlet: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophies. When presenting his work, he would ask us questions like, what if Hamlet’s dad’s ghost wasn’t around? What if there was no storm in King Lear. I remember us (Renu and me) arguing with him that it was no more than a dramatic device, and I remember him getting frustrated with us for not getting it. To this day, I am not sure I got what he was getting at.

But that line from Hamlet stayed with me. Initially, it would pop up from memory when trivial things happened that I couldn’t explain, like my computer choosing to reboot suddenly. But over time, as it settled and percolated into the deeper reaches of my understanding, it began to take on more significance. It came to be about locus of control.

I bring this all up because of all the hype surrounding Sarkar Raj, set to release this Friday. It reminded me of an earlier RGV movie called Darling, a small venture that followed close on the heels of his disastrous Sholay remake. If Sarkar proved that it is possible to make a great tribute to a great movie, Aag proved that it is equally possible to make an abyssmal one. But more on that movie later.

Darling had an interesting premise. Fardeen Khan is a successful businessman with a loving wife and kid, who has an affair with his secretary. On a weekend rendezvous with her at his friend’s beach house, she tells him she’s pregnant, he doesn’t react well, things get ugly and he ends up accidentally killing her. He buries her in the backyard of the beach house and goes back home, but finds himself haunted by her ghost.

Here’s what I don’t get. The subject of the movie isn’t the ghost. The subject is his fear of discovery. In those initial scenes after the murder, this is what you see: A man who has committed a crime, covered it up and now finds himself unable to sleep. Up until this point, the movie is amazing. And then it decides to become a ghost story. Why, I wonder?

What if there was no ghost? Couldn’t RGV have made the movie simply about this man, and left the supernatural out of the picture? Just the relentless tension as he slowly gets dragged into his own grave as the people around him dig up hers… that would’ve been a fantastic movie, I think.

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12 thoughts on “What If #5: Darling

  1. Ranya says:

    But then wouldn’t it have been “My Wife’s Murder” instead? I haven’t seen either of the movies, but from the plot summary I’ve read “My Wife’s Murder” seems exactly about a “man who has committed a crime, covered it up and now finds himself unable to sleep…(who) slowly gets dragged into his own grave as the people around him dig up hers…” (And with all this quoting I feel like I’m back in my English literature class!!)

  2. You may be right. I haven’t seen that movie, but the plot I describe would probably fit more than one movie anyway. Trouble is, even then I think he’d have had a better movie if he had avoided the ghost story route!

    It’s not like RGV doesn’t know how to put ghosts into a movie. He is arguably our country’s best when it comes to doing that. It’s just that, in this movie, it somehow felt tacked on. Maybe the temptation of having Esha Deol wear white and look ominous was too much to resist 🙂

    ~r

  3. Sagarika says:

    Ramsu,

    I do remember you three musketeers doing the rounds of c-block during the same time I was sitting thru a painfully boring literature elective by some lady prof (see, the name of the class escapes me, and so does the prof’s name…you can imagine how “engaging” the whole experience was). That was pre-rafting, and I didn’t know you guys well at all, what a tragedy. I’d love to have sat thru that Shakespeare class instead (if only to be a fly on the wall, knowing fully well I don’t have the capacity to contribute to any of the discussions, having read none of his works in their entirety, except some sonnets). Oh well.

    Speaking of “when trivial things happened that I couldn’t explain,” a classic example would be this co-incidence: I was at the Indian grocery store y’day…was in a real hurry. When you buy for 20 bucks they give you a free DVD rental. I did and was now asked to choose…I had no time/patience and said to the store clerk “just give me something from that shelf over there” and she handed me, well, Darling. Will watch it this weekend…

  4. The closest movie-experience analogy of sorts that I can offer is Pan’s Labyrinth. The movie can be discernibly divided into two parts: the fantasy bit, and a story of war between the authority and the rebels, and of course these two segments overlap.

    After watching the movie, I had this odd feeling that the movie might have been good (awesome even!) if they had just cut out all that fantasy crap and focussed instead on the war drama alone. This feeling was further intensified because it was the fantasy section of the movie that was subject to much hype. Moreover, the adult actors were so well etched out that a standalone war movie would have fared pretty well.

    I have no clue if this is a valid comparison, but I, like you, thought the movie IMO could’ve been fantastic.

  5. Pradeep>> I have Pan’s Labyrinth on my to-watch list, but haven’t gotten to it yet. In general, though, I like the concept of a parallel narrative when it is done well. Let’s see how PL measures up.

    Sagarika>> I am tempted to say that it is indeed quite strange that you rented that movie by chance, but it is superseded by the temptation to say, “And therefore as a stranger, give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth…”

    ~r

  6. Sagarika says:

    Ramsu, no need to quiz me on Shakespeare (didn’t you have enough already when you ragged me way back when?). I’m still the novice that I said I was then, so pray ERC? In other words, I’m dying to know who said this thing in which play?

  7. Sagarika says:

    Pradeep/Ramsu: Pan’s Labyrinth held me in complete rapture from start to finish. Its parallel narrative was quite brilliantly done, IMO. I’m one of those who firmly believes that reality is practically impossible to endure without encasing it in a gossamer of fantasy — and the movie took my belief to new levels. Its my only foreign movie in the last 2 years…and I’ve already committed chunks of it to my cryogenically sealed memory vault.

  8. Sagarika,

    From Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5

    Horatio: O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

    Hamlet: And therefore as a stranger give it welcome,
    There are more things in heraven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

    ~r

  9. Sagarika, I love fantasy when it’s well done. In this case I felt that the war drama was done so well, it overshadowed the fantasy and the whole parallel narrative concept seemed an aberration rather than the crowning highlight of the movie.

    But in a sense, you are right. If the fantasy was ignored, the movie would’ve become a good war drama, but one among many that come out these days. This way, it stays a unique blend of reality and escapist fantasy. It’s a pity that the fantasy didn’t click for me.

  10. Sagarika says:

    Pradeep: Yeah, too bad the fantasy part didn’t quite work for you but glad you now see why some of us may be raving about it. I thought that was a beautiful articulation by Deepauk M (over at brangan’s blog) of the (almost intextricable) interweaving of the two elements in the movie, which is EXACTLY what excited me, except I couldn’t manage to put a finger on it quite the way he did.

    Ramsu: And if I indeed know the Ramsu that was once BOB (now can’t remember if you won or was runner up, or who your partner was, maybe that CP2 TA Sriram-what’s-his-nick?; all I remember was the audi doors had spilled some of us onto the marble floors outside, leaving us with strained necks craning to steal glimpses of Fing hosting and you pounding that buzzer practically into oblivion! Boy was that a house-full quiz show or what (apogee ’95?’96?)!), you quoted that thing from memory. I’m jealous.

    And so much for my taking the Darling DVD home last week — I never wound up watching it (but hubby did and said it was good; evidently, we’re both on completely different movie-viewing schedules). Oh well, “there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip.”

  11. S says:

    All this banging of secretary and burying and grave digging business sounds way creepy, what’s RGV thinking? 😛 The Darling that I eventually ended up seeing was the Tamil one from last year… with just GV–a spooky yet spoofy love story.

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