the terrorist(2000)
director: santosh sivan
ayesha darkar

. Itís a measure of director Santosh Sivanís skill that the first ten minutes of his film, The Terrorist, feels like unusually skillful propaganda for armed terrorism. By the end of the film, he hammers home an agonized plea for rejecting violence, but itís those first, vivid moments that linger in the mind.

Sivanís film follows Malli, a 19-year old guerrilla fighter in some unnamed Indian jungle -- likely a Tamil Tiger, but the exact cause is unimportant -- as she recieves a glorious mission from her leader. Malli, played with stunning understatement and remarkable presence by Ayesha Dharkar, is to leave her jungle battleground and lie in wait for a government VIP with a ring of plastic explosives strapped to her belly.

Her journey is imagined as some kind of fable by Santosh, who also wrote and shot the film, and takes her from the fanaticism of youth to the doubt and uncertainty that signal the descent into adulthood. The sleek cinematography has the sheen of a commercial, full of gorgeous close-ups of skin and cascading water, while the soundtrack is a nearly constant rumble of portentous chords and tortured, close-miked breathing. 

It would all be far too starkly simple if it werenít for Dharkarís Malli, whose intelligence and charisma make the young girlís growing rapture with the unheroic fact of her own existence the dynamo that drives the film.