The latest version of Netflix darlings, directed and co-written by Jasmeet K. Reen, starring Alia Bhatt, Shefali Shah and Vijay Varma, has taken the internet by storm and sparked several conversations regarding domestic violence. It’s a black comedy that revolves around Badrunissa (Alia Bhatt), who struggles with the abusive temper of her alcoholic husband Hamza, played by Vijay Varma. When her abuse ultimately causes irreparable damage to her life, she and her mother seek revenge.
Although the film received critical acclaim worldwide, it also received backlash for allegedly encouraging violence against men. While it’s ridiculous and disconcerting how the conversation around a film made about domestic violence caused by men turns into abuse against men, it’s worth asking what about this film that elicits such a reaction from people.
Domestic violence is one of the most normalized and often ignored crimes that women experience at the hands of men. The history of Badrunissa is as old as time. Her husband comes home drunk every night and hits her face and body. As he walks in the door and calls “Honey!” in his drunken state, it sends a shiver through the audience as we all know what’s to come before we even witness it on screen. Then, the next morning, he apologizes, blaming it all on the alcohol.
Badru’s story is not just his own, it is a story that has been going on behind closed doors for centuries. Screams of agony, muffled screams, and the angry thud of door knocks that compel neighbors to turn up the volume on their televisions and music, or speak loudly so they can happily ignore the violence that takes place within earshot.
The initial tragedy of Darlings lies in its predictability. As Badru’s fate unfolds exactly as we feared, audiences are once again forced to confront the reality of many Indian women for whom the shelter of their own home becomes the source of their trauma and abuse. .
As Badru’s mother begs her, again and again, to leave Hamza to save her life, Badru clings to denial, and her hopes for a happily ever after that everyone but her knows is only a chimera. As Shefali Shah’s eyes glisten with tears of frustration, anger and grief at the fate of her daughter, the public worries about the impending horror that awaits Badru and every woman doomed to suffer with a man like Hamza under the same roof.
When the inevitable happens and Badru miscarries after being thrown down a flight of stairs by Hamza, she finally comes to her senses and seeks revenge.
The topic of domestic violence and the very reality of men becoming monsters to their family members within the closed walls of their homes is often treated as taboo and whispered silently. darlings gets rid of these reservations and, through the use of black humor, tackles the central theme of the film head-on.
Some groups of people who claim to be human rights activists have criticized the film because the protagonist seeks revenge rather than taking the high moral road. Many felt that the film’s leniency for “mutual abuse” sends an unsavory social message.
It’s slightly disconcerting how such critics only extend their sympathy to an abuser and avoid addressing the very real portrayal of domestic violence Badru suffers from throughout the film. It is not “mutual abuse” when a survivor retaliates against her attacker in self-defense. There is much to be said about the ethics and morality of violence inflicted by violence. However, one cannot claim high morals and pass judgment on how a survivor of domestic violence should treat her abuser.
Throughout the film, Hamza tries to convince Badru that she should forgive her abusive behavior because “I am a bastard, not you…”. Doe-eyed and ever-hopeful Badru swallows his words as his mother continues to warn him that, “Some men are like scorpions and they would never stop stinging.”
Badru saves him from the police station when he promises to become a better man and give her a child. The police inspector expresses his frustration over Badru’s naivety when he spits, “Men behave like this because women like Badru let them.”
This scene highlights society’s insensitivity to the psychological conditioning and trauma suffered by victims of domestic violence. By placing the burden on survivors to remain in an abusive marriage, society absolves itself of responsibility for the injustice that occurs.
In the second half of the film, darlings strays from its predictable trajectory as Badru grows stronger through revenge. Survivors often find revenge their only weapon when they are abandoned by the same legal institutions that are meant to protect them. It’s an escapist fantasy that allows them to reimagine their world where power dynamics are turned upside down, and survivors can claim a kind of agency over their attackers and, subsequently, their own lives.
However, in the end, Badru decides to spare Hamza’s life so that his death won’t haunt her for the rest of her life. Even as she chooses the high road and walks away from Hamza, he threatens to return and ruin her life until he is hit by the train and dies. His death, conveniently caused by accident, saves us from having to face the harsh reality afterwards. But a simple look around our own society would tell us what might have happened had Hamza been spared.
Maybe the recent The case of photographer, Sania Khan, 29, who was shot dead by her ex-husband Raheel Ahmed, after she started talking about her healing journey after her abusive marriage on the internet, would show us a likely fate that Badru could have suffer if Hamza had been spared his life at the end of the film.
True empowerment came to Badru not out of revenge but through the complete erasure of his abuser, Hamza’s existence, from his world. However, the act of revenge was necessary for him to achieve this state.
Emerald Fennell’s 2020 film Promising young woman also depicts a similar revenge theme where a young woman, haunted by her traumatic past, reconfigures her life to get revenge on the perpetrators. This film depicts the protagonist’s absolute need for revenge while highlighting how stagnant his growth is.
The dichotomy of revenge plays out throughout the film. It becomes apparent that the perpetrators would not be punished unless she seeks revenge, while it also becomes clear that perhaps the protagonist would lose herself and her life in the process of her search.
Read also : Darlings Film Review: A dark comedy that explores why women stay in abusive marriages
The film is not a critique of revenge; rather, it highlights the need to resort to dangerous means of revenge when higher authorities fail to give credence to survivors’ accounts. While one can recognize the tragic consequences of seeking revenge, as long as society continues to fail survivors of domestic violence, it also loses its right to criticize how survivors find their ways to fight back.
The film is streaming on Netflix.
Read also : Maid: Netflix Series Tackles the Complexities of Generational Trauma Between Mothers and Daughters
Featured image source: India today