Zulfi And Shamshu In Darlings: Love And Desire Don't Know Boundaries Of Age

Zulfi and Shamshunissa's romance isn't the focal point of Darlings, but we do need to talk about it.

Snehal Mutha
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Zulfi and Shamshu
Alia Bhatt's first production venture Darlings is being praised for the performances by actors in the film. However, there are two characters and the way their relationship has been written, that need our applause too. Through Zulfi and Shamshu, this dark comedy touches upon matured themes such as desires in people irrespective of age. 

Women are often given a set framework; in which they are allowed to love or have desires. If they dare to venture outside of that framework, their needs are either deemed invisible and illegitimate. The entire society becomes a gatekeeper of their choices. Desire love from husband? You are fine. Desire sex or affection outside of marriage? Then you are a "bad influence".

However, in recent years, we have seen many films and web series, that challenge these age old norms and try 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.

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Shamshu is shown to be a middle-aged woman, with a grown up daughter who is married. Shamshu runs a small catering service from her home and strives to be financially independent. She also harbours feelings for a much younger man Zulfi (Roshan Mathew), who duly reciprocates them.


The film leads the viewers to believe that Zulfi has romantic feelings towards Badrunisaa, played by Alia Bhatt. We see Zulfi selling a mixer for just Rs 50 Shamshu 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 perceive love- a young man will always be attracted to a young woman.

The notion comes crashing down when Zulfi says, 'Mujhe Khala cute lagti hai', giving an unexpected turn to the dark comedy. While the movie, primarily focussing on the issue of domestic abuse, gives only a few seconds of Zulfi and Shamshunissa’s romance, the story comes across as refreshing.

A similar narrative was explored in an episode of Modern Love Mumbai- My Beautiful Wrinkles. Like Shamshu, Dilbar (Sarika) is exploring her love life in her middle age. Dilbar's journey signifies how it doesn't matter what age we are- life is still beautiful and so are our wrinkles. Also, no woman should hold back on her desires because log kya kahenge. For Dilbar discovering love and passion was a process. Shamshu, on the other hand, knows well what she wants. She is not concerned by what her daughter, or son-in-law or even the society will have to say about her actions and decisions.

Women like Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif, and Malaika Arora are the off-screen examples of older women who found love in relationships with relatively younger men. However, each one of them was shamed for dating or marrying a younger man. Curiously, if the genders were reversed here, no one would have any problem. But the moment an older woman and younger man lock eyes, our society raises eyebrows. Due to this ruthless and constant social scrutiny, women often end up suppressing their love and desires.  

">Darlings carefully nudges us to rethink our notions of "perfect" love via Zulfi and Shamshu, thus challenging set norms of patriarchy which deprives both men and women of the agency to live and love on their own terms.

Views expressed are the author's own.

Darlings Alia Bhatt Shefali Shah Domestic Violence