The Terrorist

on January 14, 2000 by Wade Major
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   It's depressing to think that American audiences might never have had the chance to behold the devastating power of writer/director/cinematographer Santosh Sivan's intoxicating "The Terrorist" if not for the persistence of John Malkovich. While serving on the jury of the 1998 Cairo Film Festival, Malkovich was so impressed by the film that he made it a personal crusade to see it released--an effort for which lovers of great cinema cannot be sufficiently thankful.
   Inspired by events surrounding the assassination of Rajiv Ghandi, "The Terrorist" belongs to a brave new wave of Indian cinema in which violence and social commentary are often fused with highly polished and stylized production values in the lyrical tradition of Satyajit Ray. Fans of "Elizabeth" director Shekhar Kapur will recall his similarly chilling "Bandit Queen," a film with which "The Terrorist" shares both stylistic and thematic sensibilities.
   The story focuses on a 19-year-old girl named Malli, played by the arrestingly beautiful Ayesha Dharkar. Raised practically from birth in a revolutionary environment, Malli covets the chance to honor herself and her cause by becoming a suicide bomber--a role which she is finally chosen to play. But as the end to her young life draws near, the zealous clouds of youth begin to clear from Malli's heart and mind. Where she once saw only opposition and martyrdom she now begins to see beauty, diversity and innocence. Either way, Malli soon learns that innocence is forever lost and that with wisdom and maturation come challenges and crises for which there are often no easy answers.
   An award-winning cinematographer prior to turning to filmmaking, Sivan possesses an uncanny ability to create hypnotic, haunting images of unrivaled power. The film's sparseness of dialogue is, in fact, one of its greatest strengths. Images, music, sound and the faces of an extraordinary cast provide Sivan with a new grammar and a new language with which to communicate emotions and thoughts that mere words can hardly touch.    Starring Ayesha Dharkar, Vishnu Vardhan, Bhanu Prakash, K. Krishna and Sonu Sisupal. Directed by Santosh Sivan. Written by Santosh Sivan, Ravi Deshpande and Vijay Deveshwar. Produced by Shree Prasad and Jit Joshi. A Phaedra release. Drama. Tamil-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 99 min.
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