How Netflix’s Darlings Is Relevant In A #MeToo World Post

The global human rights organization Breakthrough brought the Bell Bajao (Ring the Bell) campaign to India in 2008. The aim was to encourage neighbors to intervene to end domestic abuse in a country where intimate partner violence is often dismissed as a private family matter. This campaign was innovative yet simple but ultimately ineffective in bringing about real change.

Directed by Jasmeet K. Reen and starring Netflix’s Alia Bhatt dear (a term her abusive husband refers to her character) is based on the reluctance and inaction of the people the Bell Bajao campaign had tried to appeal to for nearly two decades. Society may have failed its women time and time again, but Reen’s dear It is not. The film’s refusal to shame victims at any point or extol violence and revenge make this a rare gem. This dark comedy is relevant to the current discourse around domestic violence, constituting the perfect victim, and the patriarchy’s refusal to acknowledge or rectify toxic masculinity.

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The fact that this female-led revenge drama is also directed, produced (by Gauri Khan and Alia Bhatt herself in her debut production), and co-written (by Reen along with Parveez Sheikh) by women is another commendable feat.

The prophetic mother who knows best

In dear, the figure of the mother is constructed almost as a prophetic being, full of ancient wisdom but boldly following the line of modernity. Shefali Shah’s Shamsunnisa, also known as Shamshu, is the perfect foil for her daughter, Alia Bhatt’s Badrunissa, also known as Badru. While Badru lives in hope, Shamshu sees things as they are. She has experienced enough in life not to care what the world thinks of women who dare to defy expectations and live on their own terms.

From launching her own business to taking on a younger lover, behind her keen sense of humor (often stemming from insurmountable trauma) looms the brute strength of a survivor who has overcome obstacles inconceivable in her time.

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Shamshu often encourages Badru to end his abusive marriage to Hamza (Vijay Varma); sometimes he even half-jokes about finishing off Hamza entirely. She pressures Badru to file a police report against him, but Badru, like most survivors of abusive relationships, can’t go through with it. It is a fact that one in three women in India is likely to have experienced intimate partner violence. However, only one in 10 of those women would consider making an official report to the police.

Power imbalances in toxic relationships never go away. Shamshu knows this and tries to correct the course of his daughter. But what makes Shamshu such an oddity as an Indian mother is visible in his efforts to allow her daughter to make her own mistakes. She does not try to control or force Badru. She gives her daughter the time and space to hope, learn and make difficult decisions. She leads by example, although sometimes Badru takes a little longer to catch up.


#NotAllMen Is Represented

The #NotAllMen rhetoric that came out of the #MeToo movement was nothing more than a red herring because it was never about all men, just enough. The #NotAllMen narrative has never held any appeal for good men who know the difference between being decent human beings and being abusers. In dearVijay Maurya’s Inspector Rajaram Tawde and Roshan Mathew’s Zulfi fall into this category of men.

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Although Tawde’s character is there primarily for comic relief, his frustration when the women refuse to file complaints against their abusers resonates with the viewer. Although Zulfi remains mostly in the background, she is the perfect antidote to men like Hamza. Zulfi can work odd jobs by day, but dreams of being a playwright. Unlike Hamza, he is not humiliated by life’s circumstances nor does he vent his exasperation on those weaker than himself. It is Zulfi who ends up making a police report against Hamza anonymously.


These men calmly perform the role of allies without the need for flattery.

Relevance of Darlings in a #MeToo World post

Not only do we live in a post-#MeToo world, but we’re also navigating the discourse surrounding domestic violence after the infamous Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial. The trial has sparked debates about “mutual abuse” and “reactive abuse”. Abusers often use these arguments to dismiss the inherent power imbalances present in most toxic relationships and absolve the perpetrator of responsibility.

When the trailer dear was released, there were calls to boycott the film because Badru was shown abusing Hamza in what would be called “reactive violence”. Even though the premise of the movie was clear from the trailer, the boycotters conveniently ignored that this is a movie about an abuse survivor who tries to get revenge and just fights back. There were quick comparisons between Alia Bhatt and Amber Heard, who has been vilified beyond reason (proportionally more so than male perpetrators like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey) in the court of public opinion.


dear try to navigate this darkness as ethically as possible. Even when the story dear draws on revenge drama narrative, it doesn’t follow its conventional tropes too diligently. At one point, Shamshu narrates the fable of the scorpion and the frog to Badru to convince her to walk away from their hopeless marriage. But the lesson Badru draws from this is not that evil people will always do evil because it is in their nature. dear and Badru take a rather spiritual path by letting karma take its course.

Despite being rooted in reality, dear eventually gives us a fantasy (revenge) ending. It is a revenge drama where higher powers intervene and do justice. That’s a sneaky way to make sure the frog doesn’t end up as jaded as the scorpion, doomed to repeat the same mistakes even when it’s not in its own interest.

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