Movie Review by Alice Castle

Starring: Ayesha Dharker, K Krishna, Sonu Sisupal

Director: Santosh Sivan

In a previous incarnation, the director of THE TERRORIST, Santosh Sivan was a cinematographer and this is reflected in his skill at creating strikingly beautiful frames. We are treated to the lustrous, verdant flora of the equatorial sub-continent; water droplets so perfect they’re almost an improvement on nature itself and photographic clarity worthy of a spread in National Geographic. The beauty of the setting hides the horror of the film’s subject. Malli a 19 year old orphan girl lives in a camp with other young women training in the art of sabotage and waiting for a moment to show their commitment to “the cause”. Though the film deliberately doesn’t dwell on the particular cause in question, it appears we’re looking at the Tamils fighting for an independent state in northern Sri Lanka. All we know is that they are hiding out in Southern India and that their leader is an enigmatic, shadowy figure – somebody young girls might swoon at in another society, or perhaps even devote their lives to?

Malli played by the British actress, Ayesha Dharker is selected to carry out a mission which will involve her becoming a suicide bomber. Clearly happy with the choice, Malli says little in the film but her large, deep, dark, hypnotic eyes and mane of strong, healthy hair clearly captivated the director. Trained as a killer Malli follows in the footsteps of her father, a patriotic poet and her brother, another young man who died for the cause. She has never learned to cook or sing like other young women, but she’s an expert in loading automatic weapons and beating people to death with the butt of a rifle. The few details of her past are brought to us through flashbacks and we learn that the key event in her past was the one and only night she spent with a young man, a dying freedom fighter, who she cradled in her arms till his life drained away.

By strapping explosives around her waist and under her dress, Malli is to kill a prominent politician as she presents him with a smile and a garland of flowers. But before the event can take place she must live under cover as a student with a kindly elderly man and his wife, who has been bed-bound in a coma since her son died. In the short time period Malli spends with a semblance of a family, away from her fellow “freedom fighters” Malli begins to reflect on her past and what little is left of her future.

The film is beautifully shot, and the characters interesting but something happened in post-production with the soundtrack that irritated me. As is the way with many films from the subcontinent sound effects are added to create intimacy but the girlish sighs and muttering were unnecessary. Nevertheless, the film so impressed John Malkovich at the Cairo Film Festival it gained his patronage and will no doubt be memorable in the minds of the art house crew.

4 out of 6 stars