By Neha Fayaz
RECENTLY released Darlings starring Alia Bhatt, Shefali Shah and Vijay Varma presents a dark tale with subtle tones of humour as an introduction to a violent and fragile marriage. Badru, played by Alia Bhatt is a hopeful and strong character who moves away from the ‘perfect’ image of a domestic violence victim. In cinematic productions, the essence of what a domestic violence or sexual assault survivor should entail borders on unwavering strength, a clear conscious, drive for revenge and hatred towards their abuser. Badru in Darlings provides a realistic image of the conflicting thoughts of a domestic violence survivor with the occasional events of forgiving her abuser, who in this case is her husband, Hamza.
Situated in Mumbai’s Muslim dominated Byculla area, Badru and Hamza’s marriage is a product of young love. The movie starts with scenes of the couple in love, almost dedicated to making their relationship work. Fast forward a couple of minutes and a jarring reality of their marriage ensues where Badru is subjected to physical violence at the hands of Hamza for domestic trifles. The next day Hamza apologises in a manner perfectly chalked up to a toxic cycle of abuse. This constant cycle of apology, forgiveness, anger and sadness is in tandem with real life domestic cycles of abuse where there seem to be no clear demarcations between love and abuse for the victim.
Director Jasmeet K. Reen succeeds in brilliantly executing a film that encapsulates the intricacies and diminishes the myth of a ‘perfect survivor’ through Darlings, a term used by Hamza affectionately to Badru. Badru’s mother, Shamshun i.e Shefali Shah is an interesting character woven into the detailed fabric of the movie’s plot. Constantly driving her daughter to seek revenge for the crimes Hamza has committed, Shamshun still does not directly interfere in their marriage. She instead waits for Badru to make the first move.
What also comes off as an interesting element in this movie is the intertwining of domestic abuse in the marriage of a Muslim couple that is perpetuated by alcohol, a drink prohibited for Muslims. Another duel that the movie showcases is the clash of “modernity” and “traditionalism” shown through the presence of Shamshun.
Badru’s internal conflict of leaving her husband and wanting to start a family with him is the major source of conflict stopping her from taking revenge on Hamza. Despite constant fights between the couple on accusations of Badru cheating or her trying to get her husband to quit drinking, Badru gets swayed when Hamza promises her the possibility of an ideal family.
The movie plays smart here as well. While Badru is shown to fall for the “perfect” family ideal fed over generations to women, it is the thwarting of this very desire that drives her to her ultimate revenge.
This tale of revenge in this disillusioned marriage is by no means quick paced, ‘perfect’ or even satisfactory, perhaps. This is what makes it most faithful to reality. This is how the cycle of abuse and healing works. It is definitely not a straight line and Badru’s changing emotions and decisions exhibit this internal struggle.
It’s the attention to such nuances of intimate partner violence that makes the movie a good-watch. However, critics of the movie have taken up a myriad dimension to examine, the most prominent one being the Muslim identity of the characters.
In the current socio-political climate in India which puts Muslims at an inherent disadvantage, the production of any work which shows Muslims in a negative light cannot be excused. However, there seems to be a saving grace here. The series does not outrightly draw any correlation between the character’s religious identity and the domestic violence in the marriage that ensues. In fact, it shows an internal conflict wherein both the oppressor and the oppressed belong to the same community. In addition, the resistance that follows also stems from within the community. Here, Badru is seen breaking away from the violent shackles of her violent husband with the help of her mother who provides her support and never questions her experience. This movie, in its direction to a larger extent, encapsulates the lived reality of women in India in general and not just Muslims. In addition, the direction has also perfectly manoeuvred instances without villainising or victimising any community. The movie shows Hamza as an abusive husband; an abuser irrespective of his religious identity.
The movie all in all succeeds in portraying a successful picture of an Indian marriage in a small locality. In India alone, 1,548,548 cases of Domestic Violence were reported by women between 2001 and 2018. While extensions of civil society like NGOs help in providing shelters and hotlines, strides still need to be made to provide a better model of support for women in India.
Darlings is streaming on Netflix India
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