Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, November 11, 1998

‘The Terrorist’ awash
with symbolism

By Burl Burlingame

The Terrorist StarStar
Not rated

This is the third of the five feature films nominated for the Hawaii International Film Festival Maile Awards. One review will run daily through Friday. The winner, along with the Golden Maile for documentary films, will be announced at a HIFF awards ceremony Nov. 12. Call 528-HIFF for information.

HIFF WHAT'S the deal with Indian films and water? Sometimes it seems as if they can't go for a reel or two without getting wet.

In "The Terrorist," Santosh Sivan's good-looking but murky thriller, the central character Malli (we can't call her a heroine) spends her days out in the rain or splashing through ponds, and as soon as she gets a roof over her head, she takes showers. Three or four or dozen showers a day.

The water beads up on her skin, and gets all back-lit, and her eyes roll up and she gets thoroughly swoony, and if this were on Showtime, it'd be time to shoo the kids out of the room. But this is an Indian movie; Malli just towels off and goes back out into the rain.

Either Sivan needs to be kept away from garden hoses, or all this dampening is probably meant as a metaphor for cleansing, because Malli has agreed to become a human-propelled bomb. She, like the rest of her family, is busy fighting an unnamed government for an unnamed cause. She's to blow up an unnamed politician, but the style of the assassination will surely have Indian audiences nudging each other and whispering "Rajiv Gandhi!"

The first part of the film establishes Malli as a pretty cool customer under fire, in some obliquely filmed guerrilla battles. Then she's volunteered as the suicide bomber -- to the envy of the other girl guerrillas -- and goes under cover to the appointed rendezvous. Along the way she picks up a teen-age jungle boy as a guide and then she demonstrates how to hack a soldier into giblets.

Malli pretends to be an agricultural student for a week or so (an excuse to wander around looking at plants in the rain), while staying with an elderly chap who's oblivious to what mischief she's up to. He's a cheerful Chuck Berry look-alike who waxes flatulent with life-goes-on philosophizing, and whose wife is in a coma (a coma of which the only purpose is provide high suds at a critical moment). Malli absorbs it all; between showers, that is.

Will Malli have second thoughts about her mission? Sivan ends the film with a dramatic cop-out that would have been stale on an episode of "Charlie's Angels."

"The Terrorist" is handsomely filmed, however, and was lensed by director Sivan as well. Sivan also contributed to the screenplay. It has more on its mind than the traditional (and endless) Indian soap opera, to its credit.

As Malli, Ayesha Dharkar commands the film's center. She has expressive, liquid eyes to die for, as well as an out-of-whack sense of inner gravity. And water beads up on her most spectacularly.

Now showing

Bullet When: Repeats at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Arizona Memorial

Bullet Neighbor islands: Showings are 5 p.m. Saturday at the Honokaa People's Theater on the Big Island; 6 p.m. Nov. 16 at Kukui Grove Cinemas on Kauai; and11 a.m. Nov. 18 at Maui Arts and Cultural Center

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