The Terrorist
The two faces of Malli. A young woman (Dharker) must chose her path...
Malli

dir Santosh Sivan
scr Santosh Sivan, Ravi Deshpande, Vijay Deveshwar
with Ayesha Dharker, Parmeshwaran, Vishwas, Bhanu Prakash, Vishnu Vardhan, K Krishna, Sonu Sisupal, Anuradha, Bhavani, Gopal, Saravana, Anna Durai
release UK 11.May.01
99/India 1h35
3 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E

Springing from a desire to get behind the scenes of the 1991 assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, this is a compelling, simply told drama about a young woman's voyage to personal responsibility. It's not a true story--the events and characters are fictionalised--but beautiful filmmaking and fine acting transcends any cultural barriers between eastern and western movie styles.

Malli (Dharker) is only 19, but is fully active in the community of guerrilla fighters in South India, where her brother was martyred for the cause. When their leader asks for a volunteer for a high-profile suicide mission, she quickly takes the job, then heads off on an odyssey ... guided through the jungles by a young boy (Vishwas) to a waterfront village where she lives with a nosy farmer (Parmeshwaran) and is prepared by two fellow freedom fighters (Prakash and Vardhan). But as she remembers events from her past, she begins to wonder if she's chosen the right course for her life.

Indian films tend to be very melodramatic; this film is no exception, making it rather difficult to connect fully with the storyline and situations. But two things help overcome this: Sivan directs with a remarkable artistry that captures the feel of the place. His clever touches and haunting imagery make the events come alive and highlight the horror and violence without ever showing any grisliness on screen. And the flashbacks are cleverly woven into the narrative, building a parallel story that dovetails into the main plot at just the right moment, giving us a kick to both the gut and the brain. Meanwhile, Dharker delivers a beautifully understated performance--both elegant and brutal, revealing her inner being in subtle, telling ways and never drifting into caricature like most of the other actors. She's so gripping and completely believable in the role that the film's simple production values don't really matter at all. The fact that she's landed roles in Star Wars Episode II and the next Merchant-Ivory production shows what a future she has in world cinema. It's rare to see a film get behind the face of a terrorist with such sensitivity, neither glorifying nor trivialising the people or the cause.
themes, violence cert 12 8.May.01

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