SPOILERS! This review will contain spoilers for the movie 'Darlings'
August has been a month of a huge influx of South Asian stories, and one that we have to talk about, and perhaps the most timely, is ‘Darlings’. Starring Alia Bhatt and Vijay Varma, the story follows Badru (Alia Bhatt), as she struggles to navigate an entirely changed relationship with her now alcoholic and abusive husband Hamza (Vijay Varma). Together with her mother (Shefali Shah), the two women concoct wild schemes in order to exact revenge against Badru’s husband, many of which fail miserably.
Whilst overall the movie did well and was enjoyable to watch, I think that it ended up leaning far more towards a thriller than as a dark comedy. As an audience member you find yourself pulled to the edge of your seat in worry for Badru as she concocts wacky plan after wacky plan, terrified that this might be the time her husband fatally injures her. The comedy aspect of this movie was strictly limited to the antics of Badru and her mother Shamshu, and it was honestly difficult to laugh at the two of them desperately trying to exact revenge against Hamza. The film ends with Hamza’s accidental death, but not before constant rounds of Badru forgiving and then un-forgiving her husband for his abusive behaviour towards her.
The release of this film, however, was coincidentally very timely as many news headlines around this time were reporting stories of male violence against women (particularly South Asian and Arab women). So, although it’s intention might have been to be more of a dark comedy, considering the political atmosphere at the time, Badru’s story of struggling to break free of an abusive marriage was hauntingly familiar to the faces of the women being shown on the news. Not only does Badru’s story ring close to home for any survivors of domestic violence, but ‘Darlings’ has the added nuance of the couple being Indian Muslim as well.
Indian Muslims are generally not represented well, if at all, in mainstream Indian media. The choice to highlight the issue of male violence against women, particularly in a marriage, with a Muslim couple is a double-edged sword. This is because although South Asian women, irrespective of religious background, reserve the right to break free of an abusive marriage despite social convention, we have to be conscious of the fact this movie does continue to perpetuate a harmful narrative of ‘the dangerous Muslim man’ that is extremely prevalent in Indian media.
‘Darlings’ is a complicated movie, with it touching so many different important social issues for the South Asian community today. I found myself more terrified for Badru and her survival, rather than actually laughing at any of her well-intentioned attempts at revenge. And although I personally don’t agree with the choice of choosing to highlight a Muslim couple for this story (whilst also including not a single Indian Muslim in the cast or production team), it does portray the complex dynamic of an abusive relationship well. ‘Darlings’ is a well-intentioned film that does depict how difficult it is for South Asian women to break free of social convention and find the strength to leave their abusive relationships. However, if you found yourself laughing during this film, it's probably because you haven’t looked closely enough at the horrifying truth.
'Darlings' is available to watch on Netflix