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The Terrorist’ portrays heavy human side

Christine NGuyen | Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Santosh Sivan’s “The Terrorist” is an intense and emotional look at the individuals who partake in terrorist tactics in order to further their causes. This is no action flick starring Bruce Willis – quite the opposite, as its focus is on Malli, a 19-year-old rebel assigned to a mission horrible but seemingly vital to her group’s cause: political assassination by means of suicide bombing.

Based on the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi, Sivan’s directorial debut moves beyond specific ideologies and names and focuses on thought processes and the point of view of a human struggling with deciding her own fate. Sivan chooses not to portray any specific terrorists group, any ideologies or the identity of Malli’s target.

Instead his shots of rain on Malli’s face and her steady stare hold the audience captured.

Sivan creates a character that embodies both the rebellious and dangerous nature of her cause while allowing her emotions and doubts. Self described as the purveyor of 30 successful missions and the daughter of a revolutionary poet, Malli’s actions are disjunctive with her beautiful and thoughtful nature. In flashbacks, we see her fall slowly in love with a fellow rebel as she comforts him during his dying minutes and moments where she bonds with her young guide, Lotus.

As Ebert said in his review of the film, “This is not a film about the rightness or wrongness of her cause or the political situation that inspired it.” Its true story is the psychological process dividing this woman between her cause and her life. Raised to become a revolutionary, the daughter of a revolutionary poet and the sister of a dead rebel, Malli’s life up until she is chosen to carry on her mission is fully involved in the movement.

However, Malli’s decision takes her outside of the secluded surrounding of her campgrounds and to the real world, full of interesting people and individuals who hold differing opinions, like Vasu, in whose house she stays as she waits to complete her mission. His jovial demeanor and use of amusing philosophy opens Malli’s mind to the “real world.” She is now faced with the idea that she might be able to choose her own future.

Though tagged as extremely violent, most of the film’s more disturbing scenes are implied – the firing of a gun or a flinch on someone’s face shows more than any scene of direct violence. The opening scene of Malli killing a traitor is terrifying because of her proximity and the mercilessness of her actions. As we hear the gun go off and see the blood splattered on her face, we understand the gruesome action, though we do not see him die. The focus is on Malli.

While most films noted as violent action films are gratuitous, “The Terrorist” uses scenes sparingly, and each has a definite and specific purpose. Sivan decreases the violence in order to focus on Malli’s story.

An excellent selection for the Asian Film Festival, “The Terrorist” was followed by discussion of the film with a panel with faculty for discussion. Students walked into the Browning theatre not knowing what to expect. The idea that someone the audience’s own age is chosen to carry on a suicide bombing is as foreign as it gets. However, many left with a little more understanding of the circumstances that are involved with the making of such dangerous decisions.