<--Added on 8/22/08 for migration to TPB -->
After an eager wait, got to see The Terrorist this week.
This week, the much-hyped birthday celebration for one of Kollywood's biggest stars took place. While I truly admire Rajini for what he is in the real world, a really great person, I have nothing but contempt for the humongous crap he dishes out in his movies, since the early 1980s. Where is the Rajini of the 70s? I hold him largely responsible for starting a trail of mediocrity in Kollywood - the concept of superstardom which is nothing but idiotic mass hysteria. So much so, every dumb kid on the street like an Ajith, Vijay or for heaven's sake a Simbhu or a Dhanush is following that path. It's largely because of these masala heroes whose entire lifetime is spent in protecting their Utopian screen image that the real heroes of Kollywood never get their due. The works and talent of a Vaali, Ilaiyaraaja, Kamal, PC Sriram, B.Lenin, Crazy Mohan, Ravi Chandran never get recognition.
Santosh Sivan was the ace cinematographer for movies like Roja, Thalapathi, Dil Se, Fiza, Bride and Prejudice. Didnt know till now that he was the director for Ashoka.
Cutting to the movie, The Terrorist(released December 26 1997) promised unending visual delights and it did not fail on that count - Sivan at his stirring best. The movie is shot in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the locale is quite similar to the Jaffna and Vanni jungles where the actual story is based. From an archivist's perspective, having been reading up several hundred pages of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, personally I would say storywise the movie has a few failings. From the cinematic perspective, it is a great work, head and shoulders above the insipid offerings of commercial cinema.
Based on the LTTE's assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, The Terrorist is about Malli(Ayesha Dharker), a female cadre of an insurgent group. Her brother Ramu is the first martyr of the group, having consumed cyanide on being captured by the armed forces. Malli grows up seeking revenge and becomes versatile in the art of guerrilla warfare. The objectives of the rebels, especially their women's troops, is well depicted in the first half of the movie. The part where Malli is selected among several aspirants to become the suicide bomber is captured well, as also the respect she invokes among the child cadres among the rebels. The sombre sounds of booming artillery, the rush of troops along the swamps, the eerie atmosphere of the jungles give full fodder to Sivan's lens.
Malli becomes intimate with one of the male cadres, whose life she saves in a skirmish. Their interaction is handled in a mature way, it is almost inconspicuous. Soon it is time for her to accomplish her mission and she is soon sent to be with Lotus, a small boy who acts as a conduit in shipping cadres to India. Lotus is an innocent kid, son of a Hindu priest who was burnt alive(Shades of the 1957 anti-tamil riots where a Hindu priest was thrown into boiling tar?). His vivacious and sensitive nature despite losing his parents and sister endear him to Malli. Reaching India she meets Thyagu who is the liaison guy for the cadres. Thyagu gets her to stay with Vasu, a glib and kind-hearted farmer who has no idea about the sinister intentions of his tenant.
Although Vasu has done a fine job, it is this part of the story which fell apart IMHO. A series of events cause Malli to question herself, the mission she was sent for. Apparently it turns out she is in the family way, courtesy the rebel guy she was close with. If the tale is to be inspired from the LTTE, then Sivan badly fails here - although healty interaction is allowed by the Tigers, relationships are strongly prohibited.
D-day approaches and Malli is still a nervous and confused messenger. She is still battling the mental contradictions as her perspectives rapidly change. Does she accomplish the job?
I wonder if the edicts of Indian film-making, which has strict rules regarding films based on terrorism/insurgency had an effect on the ending - a good case in point is Nayakan, where Velu Naicker the protagonist dies in the end.
Ayesha with her expressive eyes does justice to her role.
The Terrorist won several awards and got high approbation at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999.