After he has punctured her fingers with pointed heels, Vijay Varma’s Hamza tearfully apologises to Alia Bhatt’s Badru at the police station. He begs for forgiveness, blames alcohol, and promises that he won’t touch it after they have a child. He plays on her love for him and asks, “If you didn’t love me, why would you put up with this?” He sobs and pleads that he only wants her happiness. She gives in. This is perhaps one of the most chilling scenes of the film, perhaps as triggering as the violence, because you — like Shefali Shah — want Badru to lock him up in the police station as he deserves. Yet, she watch as she falls prey to his emotional onslaught.
Darlings gets it eerily right in the first half—the cyclical pattern of abuse, gaslighting and love, and the dilemma of a woman in such a situation. At the beginning of the film, Badru loves Hamza, but fears him. It is evident the way her hand trembles as he has a minor discomfort while eating the food she has prepared. A night of abuse later, she is back to preparing his omelette-pav in the morning, brushing the violence off as a couple’s fight. He turns off his charm again, promising to be a better man.
It’s almost debilitating to see that she is compelled to treat it as just a flaw in his ways that can be easily fixed. We, the audience, are like Shefali Shah and Roshan Matthew’s Zulfi in the film — everyone can see the abuse meted out to Badru, but she can’t, even when her own mother gets punched by Hamza. Vijay Varma brings forth the real and horrifying abuser, something so many people would identify with, a casual punch yet inflicting grievous injury, the insincere promises, lies, the ability to tear someone down by just toying with their most raw and vulnerable emotions. It’s a person who keeps you on your toes and induces panic, with intervals of romantic caresses. But sweet gestures and caresses don’t hide the bruises, as Badru knows in the recesses of her mind.
Yet, it is still hard to break out of the pattern, owing to those moments and perhaps a better past—as Badru keeps holding on to, till she finally reaches a breaking point in the relationship. After losing her child, the imperfect victim is born, leading to much discussion on social media about the misused term ‘mutual abuse’. Badru is not looking for legal recourse at first and she has no intention of just leaving abusive husband without causing him pain. She desires to see him suffer the same way she has. She is not a saint, she’s human.
Darlings isn’t about a violent couple, and it’s almost derogatory to say so, it’s about how a woman is provoked and finally retaliates against the horrific mental and emotional abuse that has been meted out to her with unflinching regularity. It shows a woman teetering on the precipice of her own rationality and convictions and almost believing the classic rhetoric, did I really imagine the abuse? The film echoes the sentiments from Aishwarya Rai’s Provoked, with generous doses of black comedy. Badru is seething with violent revenge, and takes pleasure in knocking him on the head with a frying pan, tying him up and torturing him with high heels, just as he had done to her days ago. It’s an instant reaction to realising that she’s suffered enough at the hands of a man she had once loved, and at this point, rationality and controlled behaviour is out of the question—-the primal instinct is grief, that is swallowed whole by rage. She wants to inflict the same emotional and physical harm that he had done to her.
By doing so, Darlings, even if clumsily, enters the darkest aspects of human psyche and brings forth the numerous emotions coursing through Badru — betrayal, grief, anger and fury at letting this cycle continue for so long. The idea that the film portrays is — sometimes, you’re just not expected to behave ‘reasonably’, when both the body and spirit are broken. You do succumb to the storm inside you, and Darlings follows Alia’s journey out of the internal hurricane. It’s an idea that won’t go down well with many people, and will lead to various debates, and the usual ‘but both were wrong’ and ‘she hit him too’ will be the refrains in such discussions.
Darlings might not be without flaws, but it captures those raw instincts of a battered woman and her own journey to closure. It’s a rocky, exhausting journey, as the film shows—it’s not a linear path.