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The Terrorist
cast: Ayesha Dharker

director: Santosh Sivan

95 minutes (12) 2001
widescreen aspect ratio 16:9
Tartan VHS retail
Also available to buy on DVD

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Peter Schilling
With suicide bombers in the world news again, this Indian drama, inspired by the 1991 assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, has a topical cachet that makes it seem more interesting than it really is.
   Mali (Dharker) is a teenager in Sri Lanka, trained as a killer by jungle guerrillas; she executes a traitor to prove her worthiness to serve their fanatical cause, and later hacks up a soldier during her guided trek to another camp where she will be groomed for martyrdom. During her training designed to kill a visiting politician, Mali begins to doubt her beliefs, question her motives, and entertain a number of youthful misgivings about her final desperate mission.
   Cinematographer Santosh Sivan (maker of Asoka) made his directorial debut with this accomplished, but slow-moving drama. Frequent images of water in the contemplative scenes evoke a spiritual context for Mali's meditations in the midst violent action. As death always occurs off-screen, this lacks the intense horrors of Shekhar Kapur's Bandit Queen (1994), but its superbly creative camerawork and a hauntingly beautiful score are adequate compensations in a production offering memorable character studies instead of plot.
   Where this video release fails most is with shoddy matte work for its necessary English subtitles, which makes some dialogue impossible to follow.