The absurdity of abuse

April 23, 2023

Darlings unabashedly tackles the issue of domestic violence – but with a dark comedic spin

The absurdity of abuse


arlings is a movie worth watching. For those who have not watched it yet, it is also available on Netflix.

The content of the movie is worth talking about too, in part because of its distinctive themes, and in part on account of how well they are executed. The winding plotline culminates in a quasi-absurd ending that leaves the audience with a lot to mull over.

Darlings is one of the few Bollywood productions that has drawn the attention of both the millennials and Gen-Z. From the very beginning, it engages the viewers through stellar performances and realistic camera work.

The movie was a trailblazer in some ways. It bagged over 10 million watching hours, the highest for any non-English film, in the first week after its release.

Set against the backdrop of a lower-middle-class Muslim locality in Mumbai, Darlings highlights the perpetuation of abuse in a crowded vicinity. It’s a story of defiance by a domestic abuse survivor we get to see from scratch.

Many scriptwriters appear confused about how to approach domestic violence. They vacillate between normalising it and tiptoeing around it. Some see it as ‘too sensitive’ a social issue to be the subject of a movie and do not wish to leave the audience with an anxious pit in their stomach. Not many dare to approach it, let alone approach it with dark humour, the way Jasmeet K Reen does.

The experimental approach makes Darlings, a fantastic film that brings to light the stories of women who have faced domestic violence.

The simplicity of dialogue is at the heart of the convincing performances by the cast; I is minimalist and carefully selected.

The first half of the story focuses on establishing that Badrunnissa, played by Alia Bhatt, is married to Hamza Sheikh, who is physically and emotionally abusive towards her.

Sheikh, who works as a ticket-checker, is portrayed by Vijay Varma. He is shown struggling with alcoholism and fits of rage. Badrunnissa suffers from the Stockholm syndrome.

The second half of the movie is packed with many twists and turns, all of which have a satirical undercurrent to them. The viewer sees a sardonic rendition of all the ugly ways in which patriarchy can transmute into capitalism. 

Badru is shown sympathising with her husband; forgiving him repeatedly after he beats her up. Despite realising that there is a pattern, Badru is unable to leave her abuser.

The second half of the movie is packed with many twists and turns, all with a satirical undercurrent. The viewer sees a sardonic rendition of all the ugly ways in which patriarchy can transmute into capitalism.

“Which marriage does not have fights?” asks a guilty Sheikh at one point in an attempt to placate Badru after he beats her the night before. In this way, he normalises violence and manipulates his wife into forgiving him. The sense of entitlement is a hallmark of most abusers.

What stands out about Darlings is that it sensitises the audience to domestic violence but employs dark comedy to do so. The choice has been mostly well received by the global audience.

The idea that there is a limit to abuse has been a recurring theme in movies and in literature. It has been depicted in movies, paintings and other forms of art. Something about the feelings Darlings invokes while imbibing this narrative is reminiscent of Judith Slaying Holofernes, a painting by 17th Century Baroque painter, Artemisia Gentileschi.

The plot focuses on how abuse is perpetrated through conditioning of both victims/ survivors and the silent enablers.

Realistic cinematography is used as a tool to support the notion that the violence is part of a pattern independent of problems like alcoholism and workplace bullying.

The trauma bond between the antagonist and the protagonist is shown in a scene in the middle of the storyline where the wife tries to report her husband to the police station and he baits her with the promise of a peaceful future. The bond is well captured and serves as a factor in building for the climax.

Another bond worth mentioning is between the protagonist and her mother, another survivor of domestic violence. These two characters grow closer as the plot unfolds and their transformation keeps the audience riveted till the end.

The director is able to create a resonance between survivors of domestic violence and a large audience. The curiosity about the characters and how their lives will change, especially after they make some very difficult, debatable decisions, is sustained.

The writer is a theatre practitioner and a drama critic

The absurdity of abuse