Reen, in this interview with indianexpress.com, deconstructs her film and explains why she decided to approach domestic violence with black comedy. The filmmaker also dives deep into the characters of Badru and Hamza, Shamsu and Zulfi, and gives their back story.
Excerpts from the interview:
While black comedy largely works in Darlings. there are comedic parts that feel forced in the second half, as if you are trying to sweeten the bitter pill. Was comedy always such a huge part of the film?
Comedy was always a part of the story. The primary story idea that I had was of a mother and daughter who want to set the daughter ‘s marriage on track. The daughter and her husband are madly in love with each other, but there is something wrong with the relationship. The mother-daughter duo come up with ajeeb ideas to solve this problem, because they were a bit off. This was the story much before I wrote the script or approached my co-writer. So, this story already had some kind of comedy in it. I believe the genre should come from the story, I don’t sit to write the genre, I think the story should land itself a genre. I always knew that it was going to be a dark comedy. As you have seen in the film, nobody is cracking a joke; it is a situational comedy. As writers and creators, we are sensitive to the issue, and so are the characters. They’re aware that they are in pain and scared, they’re stuck somewhere in their life and still trying to make it work, really trying to get out of this mess, but they aren’t able to. So, they mean what they say, just the situation is such, that it becomes funny. I wanted to play with the structure of this genre, and it was nice that with such a script, producers came on board to make the film.
Darlings has been warmly received by the audience and critics. Do you think being a woman filmmaker helped you to tell this story in a more empathetic way because it is a story about women’s experiences?
I don’t think it is a gender thing. I am a woman, I’m telling it. Of course, more women need to come and tell stories because their perspective will be different, their experiences will be different. They’ll be more sensitive or at least they would have encountered many issues in a different way and hence their experience would be different than men. I do think all directors, whether men or women, can tell very sensitive stories, can deal with women in a certain way. Guru Dutt used to represent women so interestingly, I really admire it. Mother India was also from India, so we’ve made those films before.
Having said that, more women need to come out, write and direct, for sure.
The film also touches another love story, a more mature segment between Shefali Shah’s Shamshu and Roshan Mathew’s Zulfi. As audience, I felt the need to see more of their story. Do you think you compromised on their story to tell a bigger story of the film?
The idea was that he always had feelings for Shamshu, but he would never talk about it. If he was not put in that situation where cops are accusing him of doing a crime as he had feelings for Badru, he would have probably never told Shamshu. Their relationship is so delicate, that he wouldn’t have the guts to speak out. Shamshu never thought that somebody would look at her as a woman. She is busy wanting her daughter to be happy and her dream of her dabba service picking up so that she can be financially and socially independent. But her daughter’s life is so stressful and painful for her that she is not able to move on. In the middle of all this, she finds that a person is looking at her like this. It is something very pure, it is to give people hope. Also, by the end of the film, the daughter comes around and accepts that her mother can move on, as she says, ‘Abbu aur Hamza ditto nikle, lekin yeh wala alag hai‘. The daughter is saying that if her mother wants it, she’s ok with it and the mother looks happy. I think it is completion in itself. Then what Shamshu and Zulfi do, it is up to them, but the idea is for us to accept that it can be possible, wanted to leave their love story to people’s imagination.
Darlings could easily be a revenge drama, but you chose otherwise. Why?
The mother had dealt with violence in a certain way, now the daughter was facing the same problem. The idea of putting the maindek-bicchhu (frog and scorpion) story was also that you don’t have to become like the other person. You don’t have to command respect from anybody else, it is already there within you. You can stand up on your two feet and fight for yourself and that’s when you become heroic. The hero is not someone who gives thappad ka jawaab thappad se, you can do it, but it is not an ideal situation.
The issue with marriages like these, or relationships like these, is that you feel like you can’t let go. Once Badru gets that feeling, her journey goes from tolerance to revenge, but even her revenge is so small. She has tied him up, but what is she doing with him? Making him peel peas and eggs, so that he would help her in the kitchen. That’s how simple these women are. But she had to come full circle, come to a realisation that she doesn’t have to ask him for respect. She understands that if she does something bad, then she’ll feel guilty all her life, and she wouldn’t be able to live with that guilt.
The idea was that there are these two women who dealt with violence in different ways. One of them didn’t have a choice. Shamshu had a small baby at home so she had to do what she had to do. But, the daughter had a choice and decided to not become a bicchhu, that is why that fable is used in the film. It just makes it more cathartic, an experience.