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The Terrorist - a review by Chris Jones

The Terrorist (Hindi with Subtitles)
Directed by Santosh Sivan
Certificate: 15

The Terrorist is loosely based on real life story of Dhanu, the suicide bomber who blew up Rajiv Gandhi and sixteen other people in May 1991. The director, Santosh Sivan, was actually there at the time of the attack, and it made him wonder what would lead an individual to perform such an extreme act.

At the beginning of the film we are introduced to Malli. Malli is a "freedom fighter" living in the forests of Sri Lanka. Soon into the action we see Malli confidently kill a double agent and a cornered government soldier. Malli is totally committed to the cause after spending most of her life with the rebel forces, and after having lived with the repercussions of war: her mother, father and older brother are all dead. She is 19 years old. The Leader of the rebels wants one of his soldiers to go on a special mission. A political leader in India (called 'The VIP') needs to be assassinated if their cause is to be furthered. From a group of young women Malli is chosen to go on the mission. From that moment on we watch Malli as she is groomed in her role as a suicide bomber. We follow her journey from the main camp to the ferry destined for India - helped by a young boy (who would suspect a woman and a young boy?) - then her time spent waiting for the chosen day of the attack. She is shepherded by two rebel henchmen, and is put up at a local farmer's house under false pretences. She has four days to wait. In that time we see her practice garlanding the visiting VIP with a 'dummy' bomb around her waist, and watch how her relationship develops with the farmer (Vasu) and his wife, comatose for seven years after the death of her own son. The farmer notices things in Malli that she has never thought about, and then tells her something that rocks her world: he believes she is pregnant.

From then on, the action closes in on an idea that has been haunting the film throughout: do we choose life or death? Or more specifically, how do we best serve the people we know and think we love? Malli is led to the ferry, and travels to the appointed site of the execution. We have come so far with Malli, and now she must decide between life and death.

This is a simmeringly dark story, beautiful and truly mesmerising. The camera work is hauntingly poetic, the script is taut, the acting - particularly from Ayesha Dharker, who plays Malli - exceptional. This is a film that asks fundamental questions in so many different and interesting ways. It kept me spellbound up to its transcendental, ambiguous ending and through the closing credits.

Chris Jones