Darlings dares to defy status quo

Darlings dares to defy status quo

by Pakistan News
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August 21, 2022


Amidst a sea of conversation about whether or not Netflix is providing the quality content it was once known for, certain releases prove to be a welcome addition, making one want to stay subscribed for a while longer to experience what else may be in store. It helps, further, when that release is an Alia Bhatt starrer; an actor who has not disappointed during the course of her career, often gracing the screen with powerful and memorable performances. With a recent hit like Gangubai Kathiawadi under her wing, all eyes were on Darlings, the actor’s own production project with Gauri Khan, that stars Vijay Varma and Shefali Shah. The dark, gritty, no-holds-barred film tackles the theme of domestic violence in a unique manner, and the way in which this is done has been questioned, and debated over, by many.

The story of Darlings follows the tale of a cheerful, bubbly woman named Badrunissa, or Badru, as she is affectionately known, who looks forward to marrying the love of her life, Hamza Shaikh. Belonging to a lower socioeconomic, Muslim background, Hamza is shown to propose to Badru once he secures a government job. It is here that we understand that the titular call of affection is, in fact, how the lead duo refer to each other – a consistency in the way Bollywood depicts those from lower income backgrounds. There has, of course, been a fair bit of discourse around the film making the low-income Hamza, a Muslim man, the abuser. Perhaps it was unintentional, perhaps it was a way to resist, given the current socio political climate of India. Or perhaps, audiences are reading into it, given that Badru also plays a Muslim woman who fights back. For an in-depth deep dive, opening this up for debate is, perhaps, the best option.

From the point of the proposal, where the couple is seen embracing themselves and their happily ever after, Darlings ventures forth to provide an answer to the age-old question: what comes after happily ever after? The film jumps forward a few years, at a point where Badru wishes to introduce a child into the equation, with Hamza offering reasons as to why the process should be delayed. However, it is upon him discovering pebbles in his food that the audience learns of his tendency to physically assault Badru – a matter that has been unfolding for many years, according to Badru’s mother (played by Shefali Shah). Every morning, Hamza wakes up and apologizes, and Badru relents eventually, being convinced in one way or another by her husband who makes tall promises, with no intention of keeping them.


Without touching further upon the actual story, for as predictable as it is, it is also one that must be experienced by anyone who is either an Alia Bhatt, Vijay Varma, or Shefali Shah fan, as there are certain things that the film does brilliantly. It captures the nuances of domestic violence, and it feels like one is experiencing a textbook checklist of all that a victim may go through whilst involved in a relationship as toxic as the one shared between Hamza and Badru. From being gaslit and made to question her reality, to be swayed by love bombing and promises of offspring, to triggering her eventual mental, downward spiral, the abuser does it all, and we see a Stockholm Syndrome-stricken Badru deal with the consequences in a horrifying aftermath. Whether it was inadvertent or overt, the gendered power differential that exists between victims and their abusers is addressed subtly – a fact that may be lost in translation for many who choose to focus on the latter half of the film that propels one into a fantastical, self-appointed vigilante justice mode.

Darlings is a spectacular dark comedy – a genre that is hard to straddle whilst dealing with a topic like domestic violence. In previous Bollywood films, we’ve seen domestic violence as a norm – a thing that happens and is paid no heed to. Actors can be violent towards their other halfs. They may even express this violence as a form of love, and justify it – something that is brilliantly touched upon in this film as well. Darlings opens up the conversation around domestic violence as a communal problem – one that exists between four walls, yes, but when screams of the victim penetrate those walls, the silence on part of the neighboring community becomes deafening.

Many argue that Darlings makes light of domestic violence. For me, it hit the nail right on the head. It is, by no means, telling victims to mutilate their abusers. It asks the question: what if they did? Would the conversation then become about retaliation, as it has? Would the initial abuse be absolved, simply because there is pushback? Is victimhood a cross women alone must bear?

When a film like Kabir Singh becomes a massive hit, women are asked to ignore the domestic violence aspect of things. We are taking things too seriously, and are not suspending our disbelief enough. However, when a film like Darlings turns the tables, the conversation becomes about normalizing domestic violence. The fact of the matter is that we are not accustomed to watching women rustle feathers in terms of the status quo. For Kabir Singh to become a cultural icon, and for Badru to be dismissed as a scorned woman who should have sought help is an unfair parallel to draw, for a multitude of reasons.

One learning that I have personally taken away while watching and reviewing any material is that empathy is key. I can have empathy for Badru, while simultaneously not condoning her actions, all while also understanding why they were necessary in the first place. Moreover, when we as viewers consume content, we must also understand that not every character we see is meant to be turned into a hero. For instance, BoJack Horseman, a popular animated series, centres its narrative around an alcoholic, once-famous actor who hurts those around him and must learn to come to terms with the consequences of his actions. While the character is deeply complex, the showrunners make it a point to highlight that it is not one for whom we must root. In fact, a mirror is held to audiences to reflect upon the instances of BoJack they can recognize in themselves. BoJack is not a hero. Kabir Singh is not a hero. Badru is not a hero. They are flawed characters who are the amalgam of their circumstances, and must be seen as such.

Keeping this in mind, one can then fully appreciate how artfully Alia Bhatt tackles Badru, and depicts her mental tussle between forgiving Hamza and harming him. Vijay Varma must be applauded for his portrayal of Hamza, who we part fear, part resent as his many shades come to light. Watching him play a “bichoo,” or scorpion – a callback of sorts for She fans who saw him play Sasya – in Badru’s mother’s fable is an exhilarating experience. Shefali Shah knocks it out of the park as the mother, and Roshan Mathew deserves a special shout-out for his performance as Zulfi. It must be noted, however, that despite great performances, the film could have done with a crisper edit, trimming at least thirty minutes of the film to imbibe a faster pace.

All in all, Darlings tackles a sensitive theme in a rather fascinating manner, making for an engaging watch that has one at the edge of their seat. With a stellar cast, and an intriguing unfolding of events, the film is not just one that hooks one in, but also allows one to participate in a pertinent, albeit heated debate about partner violence, toxic relationships, and on whom the onus lies in such precarious situations.

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