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Friday Feminist Reviews, Movies 12th August, 2022

I Watched Darlings (Netflix) And This Is What I Liked (And What I Didn’t).

A mainstream Bollywood film, released on one of the biggest OTT platforms in India, starring big stars like Alia Bhatt and Shefali Shah – talking about domestic violence! This is quite a win. With just one week of the release, the film has been trending on Twitter, with some asking for it to be boycotted, others talking about why they love the film. All keeping the conversation going! 

The film dives deep into understanding what it takes for a person to feel that domestic violence is normal. That a man can claim to love you but at the same time be violent towards you. The film is a dark comedy dealing with an extremely sensitive issue: Domestic Violence. The domestic violence scenes and the reaction of Hamza (the husband and the antagonist of the film) after the violence was extremely realistic and did not feel overtly dramatic. For example, the film does not portray that his character as always being angry or always beating up his wife. He beats her up and the next day he gives her all the attention and manipulates her into believing that he really loves her and blames the alcohol for being violent.

That a man can claim to love you but at the same time be violent towards you.

The film talks about the different aspects of the society on different levels. Starting with the power relation portrayed in the film and how the patterns of violence work. For eg: Hamza used to get exploited by his boss at work where he was forced to clean the toilet. He could not retaliate there because his boss was more powerful, so he decides to channel his frustration to the less powerful person, which is Badru, his wife.

In many cases of domestic violence, this is a very common pattern where husband beats up wife, wife beats up kids and kids pass the same treatment to less powerful peers and the pattern of channelising the anger and frustration to less powerful continues.

Side note: A very important part of this film was the story being set in a Muslim family and not focusing on the stereotypes of Muslim characters, unlike many Bollywood movies. For as long as I can remember, I have been watching Bollywood depict a Muslim character as someone who prays five times a day, wears kajal, wears a skull cap and speaks only heavy Urdu. This, I feel, has also in a way harmed the image of Muslim community, reducing them to stereotypes where they are depicted as ill mannered and violent in nature, adding to the idea that Islam propagates violence and hatred. 

Talking about the male allies in the film, there were great protrayals by Zulfi (played by Roshan Mathew, who is Badru’s mother, Shamsu’s friend. He is a struggling writer by profession) and Kasim (played by Rajesh Sharma, who is Shamsu’s friend. He is a butcher by profession). These men do not have a saviour complex, but at the same time both of them are concerned about Badru and her mother Shamsu and, as a result, they always support both women and never try to lead or talk over them. 

The film also depicts generational violence. In the film, Badru’s mother Shamsu had gone through the same exploitation by her husband that Badru now faces. Badru talks about the violence faced by her mother outside the police station where she claimed that her relationship with her husband is different from the relationship between her mother Shamsu and her father because Hamza loves her.  

The one thing which could have been improved was not putting the onus of standing up to the violence on women themselves. There were instances in the film where women were blamed and questioned for not taking a stand, which I feel is not fair. The dialogues between Shamsu and the policeman when she says, “daaru peeke mard jallad kyu ban jaata hai?” (why does a man become an executioner after drinking alcohol?) and the police man replies, “kyuki aurat banne deti hai” (because the woman allows it), is once again putting the onus and responsibility on woman.

Towards the end, the film also tried to normalise the romantic relationship between a younger man and an elder woman which I thought was adorable! The way Zulfi confesses his feelings for Shamsu was cute. The kind of acceptance Badru showed towards the relationship of Shamsu and Zulfi was also beautiful and progressive. In the end, the dialogue which describes that not all men are the same and Shamsu should consider Zulfi gives us hope: to not give up on love!

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