Political Film Society - The Terrorist

PFS Film Review
The Terrorist


The TerroristWhat motivates a terrorist and what can get a terrorist to give up terrorism? This question is posed in the Indian film The Terrorist, directed by Santosh Sivan, which reached Los Angeles in February 2000, although the Indian release date was 1998. The identities of the enemy and the terrorist group are not specified in the film, but we soon surmise (with dialog in the Tamil language) that the terrorists are Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka, and the enemy is the Sri Lankan government. The heroine of the film is nineteen-year-old Malli (played by Ayesha Dharkar), whose brother was presumably killed unjustly by the Sri Lankan army. Uneducated, Malli is easily recruited by the terrorists, who provide room and board, brainwash her with stories about the glory of martyrs to the cause, train her to fight with modern weapons, and give her assignments to kill the enemy on various occasions. When the film begins, a traitor to the cause is being tortured, and masked Malli pulls the trigger to execute him. Next, she is assigned to assassinate an important political leader. When Malli reaches her destination, she is trained to follow a script in which she will put a garland on the leader, bow down for a blessing, and then push a button that will set off explosives on a hidden belt. Malli, of course, will also die in the explosion, and her assassination and martyrdom are expected to advance the cause for which she has dedicated her life. Pretending to be an agricultural student, Malli is housed with a family that is unaware of her mission. Yet her experience with the family opens her eyes to other scenarios for her life. Vesu, the elderly head of the family, philosophizes that people fall into two categories -- optimistic seeds that grow and flourish, and pessimistic seeds eaten by birds. Since Malli is pregnant (from her dead boyfriend), townspeople encourage her to enjoy motherhood. Vesu's mother, in a coma for seven years, fascinates Malli, since she sees the comatose state as a paradigm for her own life. But as Malli is about to enact the scripted assassination, the mother comes partly out of the coma to grasp her hand tightly, as if to say that she should not act foolishly. Then, when the time comes to push the button, Malli demurs. For the first time in her life, she decides to make her own decision and opts for a much happier life than following orders and ending up on a funeral pyre at an early age. According to the director, curiosity about the "suicide bomber" who assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi inspired the story, which could apply to almost any terrorist conspiracy. Sadly, the film reveals that poor girls in India and Sri Lanka are in effect sold by their families to terrorist training camps because they cannot afford to pay for their education or even their marriage. Not revealed in the film is the reality that when the girl dies, her family will doubtless receive monetary compensation from the terrorists, so she is actually helping her family by offering the ultimate sacrifice. For the revealing portrayal of the causes and possible cures for terrorism, The Terrorist has been nominated for an award as the best film of 2000 on peace. MH

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