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Malli (Ayesha Dhekhar) is only 19 years old, but a fierce fighter in a guerrilla force deep in the jungle. Driven by a profound loyalty to her (undisclosed) cause and the earlier death of her brother at the hands of the enemy, she is a model for others in the unit. When the Leader (Sonu Sisupal) approaches her for a suicide mission, she willingly agrees. Masquerading as an agriculture student, Malli is billetted with unsuspecting farmer Vasu (Parmeshwaran) in the week leading to the assignment. Haunted by the death of her brother and memories of her involvement in guerilla combat, Malli struggles to come to terms with the true meaning of her mission.

"How often do we face a truly life and death decision - particularly one concerning our own lives? For most of us, the answer is (thankfully) never. But in Santosh Sivanís remarkable film The Terrorist, we can delve into the mind of someone in just that position. Although itís never explicitly stated, the film is loosely based on the events surrounding the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi; and this real life connection makes the film all the more resonant. But The Terrorist is not about carrying out a specific act, itís about the psychology of those who through choice or otherwise become involved in political violence. Itís a powerful exploration; bookended by two of the most astoundingly executed scenes Iíve had the privilege to witness in recent times. And itís even more exceptional when you consider the film was shot on a shoestring budget with mostly non-professional actors. Sure, there are moments when the lack of polish is noticeable - particularly in the overuse of "breathing" sounds. But these flaws are easily overlooked amidst the powerful and entrancing web woven by Sivan. This isnít a film in which the action comes thick and fast. Itís a contemplative piece, filled with beautifully realised moments and exquisite cinematography. The ending sharply divided the audience at the screening I attended; but that may have something to do with the fact the story is set in a society very different from ours and in which our values are not easily translated. The Terrorist is an outstanding piece of cinema; one to be relished."
David Edwards

"I wish I could share Davidís enthusiasm for this highly praised film, but for me it is a flawed photo essay without sufficient context. Sivanís cinematography is the driver for this film, but sadly he falls for the trap of showing us glistening, wondrous images, often dramatically and instinctively structured, but without meaning. His camera caresses Ayesha Dharkarís pretty, full lips, large, moist eyes, her luminous brown skin. . . and he introduces water at every opportunity, on her face, her hair, her clothes, her skin, as well as just water on everything. Great shots, but they belong on a calendar. Like a chef who opens a restaurant in the belief that all he needs to know is how to cook, a cinematographer needs to know more than how to shoot brilliant images. We need characterisation and we need a context. Above all, a context. Void of place and political exposition, the film fails to draw us into the subject, even though Dharkarís Malli is a credible enough character through the sheer tenacity of her performance, making the one salient point about the pasion of youth trapped by political forces to do the unthinkable. Tantalising with its probing of a terrorist mind-set, The Terrorist offers only modest insights, partly because of its reluctance to flesh out the rest of the terrorist group. For me, this doesnít quite work as a device to make a statement such as Ďit could be any causeí. Nor does the ending tally with the intentions of the filmmaker. Its character focus falls not even on Malli so much as on the old man whose house she uses to stay in the four days prior to her assignment. To top off my grievances, the film has the most heavy handed, intrusive foley sound I have ever heard, giving Malli heavy breathing throughout the running time, and footfalls steel tipped cracks even when they are clearly soft shoe shuffling."
Andrew L. Urban

"The Terrorist is an extraordinary achievement. Firstly for having been made at all - a 17 day shoot on a $50,000 budget never looked so impressive. More importantly it humanises the faceless children and young adults who kill and are killed in conflicts they themselves have little understanding of. Santosh Sivan's film begins with the searing image of Malli, a pretty 19 year-old, casually delivering capital justice on a traitor. She is representative of the thousands who believe the words of adult leaders (deliberately unseen here) who proclaim "such bravery strengthens our efforts" while promising the counterfeit immortality of martyrdom. By remaining elusive about the nature of the terrorist faction and the identity of the target (referred to only as "The V.I.P.") Sivan delivers a compelling study of an individual who believes unquestioningly in her destiny until, probably for the first time in her life, she is able to spend a short time away from constant propaganda and stories of noble sacrifice. Ayesha Dharkar's face is the perfect conduit for Sivan's ideas. Through piercing dark eyes her bravura, blind allegiance and finally her fear leave an indelible impression. Her growing trauma as the comatose wife of farmer Vasu appears to stare at her in silent judgement while she rehearses her glorious death is chillinglly done. The Terrorist, beautifully shot by Sivan (also one of India's finest DOPs), is an elemental film. Water, rain, earth and hair play a significant role in the visual tapestry which balances the poetic and the brutal to startling effect. This intimate portrait of a fighter whose war becomes one with her own conscience is a stunning success which deserves the widest possible audience."
Richard Kuipers

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CAST: Ayesha Dharker, K. Krishna, Sonu Sisupal, Vishwas, Anuradha, Bhavani, Parmeshwaran, Gopal, Saravana, Anna Durai

DIRECTOR: Santosh Sivan

PRODUCER: Jit Joshi, A. Sreekar Prasad

SCRIPT: Santosh Sivan


EDITOR: A. Sreekar Prasad

MUSIC: Rajamani, Sonu Sisupal


RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 19, 2000 in Sydney; other states to follow

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