Domestic violence is no laughing matter, but a dark comedy streaming on Netflix on the topic is wowing audiences in India. Starring Bollywood actress Alia Bhatt, Shefali Shah and Vijay Varma in the lead roles, Darlings is the story of a young Muslim couple in love – and violence and revenge.
The film opens with the lovers – Badrunissa (Bhatt) and Hamza (Varma) – deciding to get married, but theirs is not a happily-ever-after story. Three years into the marriage, the couple have made a home in a lower middle-class housing tenement, but Badrunissa is sleeping with the enemy. He’s the classic abuser, who batters her every night and says sorry in the morning. His justification for hitting – and her acceptance of it – is love. “Yes I’m a bastard but I hit you only because I love you,” he says. And she is a victim who lives in denial, believing that he’ll come around if only she can make him stop drinking or if she has a child to cement their relationship.
But when the savagery continues and he finally crosses a line, rage takes over and halfway through the film, the tables are turned – the abused, with a lot of help from her mother Shamshunissa (played by Shefali Shah), becomes the abuser. The mother and daughter kidnap the husband, hold him hostage in his own home and start doing to him what he had done to her.
The film, which began streaming on Netflix globally exactly a week back, has received mostly positive reviews from critics and wowed audiences. According to Netflix, it is doing very well not just in India but in many other countries too.
Darlings has had “the highest global opening ever for a non-English Indian film” and audiences have spent “more than 10 million hours” watching it in its opening weekend, the streaming platform said in a statement to the BBC.
The film “is currently trending in the top 10 in 16 countries in the Americas, Africa and Asia including in the UAE, Singapore, Malaysia, Kenya and Trinidad and Tobago”, it added. The reasons for interest in the film are not difficult to gauge – Bhatt is among the top Bollywood actress of the day with a dedicated fan following; the film is backed by superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s production company; and the universal appeal of the topic of domestic violence.