Women are regularly given a set framework by the society, in which they are permitted to love or have desires from the time the so-called civil society was formed. If they set out to venture outside of that framework, their needs are either disregarded or considered illicit. Thus the whole society gets to be guardians of their choices. Desire love from spouse? It is fine. But desire sex or affection outside of marriage? Then you’re a ‘bad influence’.
However, in recent years, we have seen numerous movies and web series, that challenge these age-old norms and try to humanise women’s desires. Take the recently released film, Darlings, for instance. In the movie, the character of Humza (Vijay Varma) constantly keeps targeting his mother-in-law Shamshunissa for an affair she never had. Shamshu (Shefali Shah) knows her relationships well and doesn’t feel the need to clear the air.
The film leads the viewers to believe that Zulfi has romantic sentiments towards Badrunisaa, played by Alia Bhatt. We see Zulfi offering a mixer to Shamshu for Rs. 50 and how he makes unconditional deliveries for her catering business, but we fail to connect the dots initially. And so does Shamshu. This speaks a lot about how we are conditioned to see love – a young man will always be attracted to a youthful lady.
Women like Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif, and Malaika Arora are the off-screen examples of older ladies who found love in relationships with relatively more younger men. However, each one of them was shamed for dating or marrying the man of their choice, when it turned out they were younger than them. Curiously, if the sexes were reversed here, no one would have any issue. But the moment an older lady and younger man bolt eyes, our society raises eyebrows. Due to this ruthless and constant social scrutiny, women frequently end up suppressing their love and desires.
All in all, Darlings is a bold attempt as it carefully nudges us to rethink our ideas of “perfect” love via Zulfi and Shamshu, hence challenging set standards of patriarchy which deprives both men and women of the agency to live and love on their own terms.