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With: Ayesha Dharkar, Parmeshwaran, Vishnu Vardhan, Bhanu Prakash, K. Krishna, Sonu Sisupal, Vishwas, Anuradha
Written by: Santosh Sivan, Ravi Deshpande, Vijay Deveshwar
Directed by: Santosh Sivan
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Tamil with English subtitles
Running Time: 100
Date: 03/19/2013
IMDB

The Terrorist (1999)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Being Malli

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Sanosh Sivan's The Terrorist was featured at the 1999 San Francisco International Film Festival, and before that at the 1998 Cairo Film Festival where John Malkovich was on the jury. Malkovich wrote in the New York Times about how bored he was with all the mediocre product out there and how he suddenly perked up when The Terrorist began. He says he was "stunned" by it and claims it is "one of the most memorable films I've seen in years." And now, for its U.S. release, Malkovich is acting as a presenter. After seeing the film myself, I can't argue too much with him.

The Terrorist focuses on Malli (Ayesha Dharkar), a 19 year-old Indian girl who has grown up in the middle of the India-Pakistan conflict. Her brother has already become a famous martyr and she volunteers for a suicide mission that will make her one too. She is to greet a Pakistani luminary with a bomb strapped to her waist and blow him -- and herself -- to smithereens. I can't tell you much more because it will ruin the power of the film.

Sivan was a cinematographer before he made his directorial debut with The Terrorist. The film was shot for something like $50,000 in 16 days and it looks as delicate and professional as a Hollywood epic. The whole film takes place from Malli's point of view, so much so that her breathing sounds in our ears during the whole film. There are even quick black-outs from time to time as Malli is closing her eyes and thinking.

The film starts showing us Malli's prowess and fearlessness on the battlefield, as well as her femininity and humanity. She's an incredibly beautiful girl that has had more training than childhood and she often ponders things she's lost, including a young wounded soldier she met on the battlefield. After she volunteers for her big suicide mission it's a combination of both preparing and waiting for the big day. While she waits she stays at the house of an old man who is wise in the ways of the world. The old man has a comatose wife who sleeps with her eyes open staring into Malli's room and Malli develops a connection with the old woman that seems almost mystical.

To the movie's credit, there is no information about the war itself, about its causes or its reasons. We don't know who the man is that Malli is supposed to kill and we never see his face. In fact, we don't see many faces except Malli's. This is her interior story and it doesn't matter what her opinion or anyone else's is. All that matters is how she feels.

Since the plot is minimal the movie has to get across to us the intensity of waiting. It focuses on the feel of rain, sweat, and blood, of the jungle and of food. Her room in the old man's house is full of photographs (his son was a photojournalist) and she spends a lot of time gazing at them. Likewise, the camera lingers on Malli's face for long periods of time, and it's a magnificent face. I could have gazed at it for another half hour.

Finally, as it must, the big day comes. We've seen Malli rehearsing every movement over and over so we know the routine as well as she does. My heart was pounding during this final scene and I had to stop and catch my breath while the credits rolled. It's not often a movie comes along that affects you like this. The Terrorist plays for only one week at the Lumiere, so make it your top priority.

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