“Darlings” would have been great 5 years ago. Currently, the trailer was better. The movie gets plenty of things right, and we can’t compliment it enough on how the nuance of the topic it deals with is so perfectly captured. The attention to detail is commendable. It’s not a weak script that the movie suffers from. The problem is instead, that it over-promises and under-delivers with a linear execution. But first, let’s praise the obvious. The cast was excellent, and they brought a pace to the storyline through their conviction to the roles that the story itself could not bring. The music was well-placed, though not very memorable. We also won’t say that “Darlings” was too stretched out. Each scene had its own relevance. It was just an opportunity lost with the linearity of it all. Let us look at how this mixed bag of a movie unfolds.
Why Does Badrunissa Kidnap Hamza?
“Darlings” starts with Badrunissa waiting near a cinema hall, presumably for her boyfriend. After quite a while, Hamza arrives and apologizes to her. He tells her that he has landed a government job and now they can get married. Badru is extremely happy as she had wanted this for a long time. Cut to 3 years later, Hamza and Badru seem to be living a happy married life. Badru keeps asking him to talk to a builder, and he seems reluctant. While having dinner, he accidentally bites into a tiny stone in the rice. This brings a moment of silence, and Badrunissa brings her palm forward, signifying that he can spit that morsel in her hand. A tiny gesture, reminiscent of the patriarchal power structure of the household. Unfortunately, when he bites into a stone again, he holds Badru by the neck and beats her. The walls are thin, and this is heard by the woman who runs a beauty parlour next door. She seems used to it, indicating that domestic violence is an everyday thing for the couple.
The next day, Hamza apologises to Badru and talks sweetly to her. Badru reluctantly forgives him and talks to him about having a baby like they had originally planned to. But Hamza is reluctant. The scene right here is indicative of why most women don’t recognize abuse when it happens. Because the extreme lows are complemented by the extreme highs. And that leads to them making excuses for their partner’s behaviour because letting go of the illusion of love is extremely painful. This is exactly what we see when Badru blames his violent tendencies on his alcohol and tries to get him to eat medicine to cure him of the ‘affliction.’ But he finds out and beats her again, followed by some sweet talking the next day. There is a manipulative cycle of abuse at play here.
One day, things go too far, and Badru admits to her mother that previously, the wounds were only physical. But now, the hurt is in her heart. Zulfi, a man who sells second-hand household items to Shamshunissa, Badru’s mother, files a complaint on her behalf. Badru, who is extremely disappointed in Hamza, decides to proceed with the complaint. But Hamza manipulates her again, saying that he has changed and is ready to have a child with her. He agrees to quit drinking once their child comes into the world. Badru is thrilled and refuses to file charges against him. But Shamshunissa warns her that violence is in his nature, and she must learn from her mother’s mistakes. Badru tells her that her and Shamshu’s stories are different because Hamza loves her and will not leave her. This, right here, is a look into why Badru is ready to accept the bare minimum from her husband. Because unlike her father, he won’t leave her. On their way back home, Hamza inquires who filed the complaint against him but is met with silence. He irritates Shamshu, who tells him that a man who hits a woman is not a man. Drunk and angry, he punches Shamshu’s nose. The women are horrified, and Shamshu asks Badru to choose between her and her husband. Badru is terrified and doesn’t know what to do.
A month has passed. Hamza is diagnosed with liver cirrhosis and is told by the doctor to quit drinking. When he goes home, Badru tells him that she is pregnant. Hamza smiles and tells her that he will quit drinking for her, as promised, cleverly manipulating his wife once again. Badru and Shamshu reconcile, and all is well again. Throughout this time, Hamza has never stopped trying to find the identity of the person who filed the complaint. After bribing a certain inspector with some valuable information, he comes to know that it is Zulfi. He immediately thinks that it is because he is having an affair with his wife. That night, he recklessly beats Badru, causing her to miscarry. Badru is heartbroken and is ready to jump out of the hospital window. But just as she is about to, she changes her mind. She asks the doctor for some sleeping pills, and we know from the look on her face that it is not for herself.
In the next scene, we see that Badru has called her mother home. Shamshu reaches Badru’s house and finds that Hamza is tied to a chair, half unconscious. Badru tells her that it is time to play the offense. She wants her respect back, and this is her way of going about that.
How Do Badrunissa And Shamshunissa Hold Hamza Hostage?
In a previous scene, we saw a police inspector mention how the ‘Nissa’ in both the mother-daughter’s names is similar to ‘Nisha,’ which means darkness. This is an early reference to what the duo is capable of. Holding Hamza captive, Badru blackmails him to sign the papers for the builder. Even Zulfi is included in the plan. But trouble starts when Hamza gets a call from his office for not showing up at work. His boss comes home, looking for him. Badru and Shamshu lie to him that Hamza has lost his health because of excessive drinking, and he made them lie about his whereabouts so that he could keep getting his salary.
As a precautionary step, the mother-daughter duo go to the police station to file a missing complaint. However, the officers come up with a theory that Badru and Zulfi must have had an affair and killed Hamza. They go to Badru’s house and find Zulfi there. As they are searching for the place, Zulfi tells the pair that he let Hamza go when he promised to return to his village and farm on his land. As the police tell Zulfi to confess whether he likes Badru or not, he tells them that he likes Shamshu instead.
When the three of them are being taken to the police station, Shamshunissa kisses Zulfi. This was the only moment in the entire film that made us laugh out loud. At the station, Hamza is already present. He has made his way there, in a heavily medicated state. Badru thinks fast and manipulates the situation enough to take him back home. The time has come to get rid of Hamza.
‘Darlings’ Ending Explained: Does Badrunissa Kill Hamza?
Badrunissa makes Hamza record a video where he says that he will leave everything and go back to his village. Once the recording is done, Hamza is under the impression that he has bought his freedom. But the twist in the tale is that Badru still plans on killing him. He is knocked out and taken to the railway tracks. As the train comes closer, Badru realizes that this is not the punishment that she wants to deliver. She says that she is different from Hamza and that killing him would make them alike. And hence, she saves him, just in the nick of time. There is an argument to be had here about provocation and the legal and moral validity of it. But that is a discussion for another time. In this narrative, Hamza begs Badru for a second chance, but she is just done with him. This infuriates Hamza, and he tells her that he will never let her go and see to her end, just the way he saw the end of her child. At that very moment, a train runs over him.
Everyone thinks that Hamza has committed suicide, since Badru had recorded the video in such a way that it felt like a suicide note. There are two particular moments here that show how women support each other through the labyrinth of patriarchal structures. One is when the woman who ran the beauty parlor, who could hear all of their fights, smiles at Badru. It means that since the walls were thin, she either knew everything, or it could mean that, knowing what Badru went through, she was happy for her that her husband was finally dead. The second moment is with Shamshu. It is when Badru puts two and two together and realizes that her father had never left her mother. She had killed him to protect herself from the violence he inflicted on her.
The women understood each other. They knew the options they had, they knew the consequences they would have to face, and they accepted the choices they made. It was a singular acceptance of the means adopted by each other to survive in the world. “Darlings” ends just the way it began. With Badru, going to a cinema hall, but this time, she is not waiting for anyone. She is enjoying her own company, marking her journey to becoming a strong, independent woman who can take care of herself.
Final Thoughts: What Works And What Doesn’t Work For ‘Darlings’?
When we saw the trailer, we were expecting a fast-paced movie that would challenge the audience to join the pieces of the puzzle with its narrative. The editing of the trailer had us anticipating some genuine, good-quality dark humor. But other than that one scene, we did not even smile during the movie. It would be unfair to call it boring. It was just not as interesting as it could be. Imagine if “Darlings” had started with the second half and had the first half shown in bits and pieces or referenced through dialogues. That would have left so much room for comedy, even if it was through errors.
Repeating what we said earlier, “Darlings” has a well-written script that has great attention to detail. But it suffers from playing it too safe. When you are being edgy, you need to be all out there. You can’t just lurk on the fringes. This story, with the narrative and the actors, was a recipe for success. But someone forgot to add the salt, and now it’s just bland. Excuse the bad metaphor, but we feel a little letdown. Maybe it was also because we had come to believe that whatever Alia Bhatt touches, turns to gold. And there was excitement about seeing Shefali Shah in a comedic role. We definitely looked forward to seeing Roshan Mathew’s cute self after “Moothon.” We were anticipating this so much. Now, we will just be recommending it to our friends, to discuss the different ways in which we were disappointed. Despite it all, we don’t have the heart to give up on it. Maybe we will just wait for someone to remake it, so it is as interesting as it deserves to be.
“Darlings” is a 2022 Indian Drama Thriller film directed by Jasmeet K Reen.