Friday, December 09, 2005

Terrorist -1999

Terrorist by Santosh Sivan is another minimalistic & beautiful movie like Akale.The movie is a great accomplishment for Santosh Sivan, given its meager budget.

Loosely based on the incidents of the rajeev gandhi assassination by the LTTE suicide squad, the movie tells the story of malli. Malli is a hard core terrorist who is sent on a mission to assassinate a VIP.On the mission she discovers that she is pregnant.
In the world of malli there is nothing else but death and loss.She looses her father, brother, lover, friends etc and she is now made to choose between death or life for another life. what will she do?

The movie is an indian 'El Mariachi'.Shot in a sparing budget of 25,000$ and in 17 days, the movie is a study on how to make a movie look rich on a meager budget. I think santosh is far better than 'Robert Rodriguez' as unlike El mariachi this movie is rich and shot in 35mm. Sivan cleverly uses visuals and audio to avoid the expensive scenes without compromising on the story.

Santosh employs lot of point of view and mid range shots and rarely uses long shots on an incident.Long shots are used for scenes of beautiful sceneries etc. This repeated point of view shots and short, medium range shots are used to accustom the audience to closer shots. He then brilliantly extends this into circumvent expensive scenes.

For example malli and let guide lotus go through a keep seeing many short,mid range shots of malli and 'Lotus'.Then there is a setup scene where lotus points to malli a land mine trip wire and explains her how it will go you know by now, how the land mines go off. on a later scene they come to a place where the terrorist have set up a trip wire for military vehicles passing through a hear noises of a jeep/truck coming closer on the road.The camera moves to the direction of the vehicle.But it does not focus the vehicle , it focuses on the trip wire with the head lights of the jeep appearing, out of focus and blurry.This out of focus light move closer to the trip wire.Shivan does a montage shot here, he cuts to the close up of the lotus. you see his facial expression of shock and the sound of explosion and vehicle crashing, the shock of the incident gets to the viewer through lotus's facial expression. Lotus tells malli that because the jeep got blasted, the bodies would have scattered all over and there would be flesh and blood every where. So he tells her not to travel in that direction.They move on in a opposite direction.The scene ends.

So what is avoided here in terms of expenses??.You dont get to see the big explosion, no fire works, no upturned/burning truck or jeep, no extra's lying around with blood, no make up, no mutilated arms and body parts. Santosh achieves two things here one there is no gory violence that would run counter to the asthetics of the movie. Secondly no big expense on the scene but the same feeling is conveyed to the audience and they are convinced.

Off this whole scene you don’t even get to see a drop of blood. Santosh has to be appreciated for taking a movie on violence without showing much of violence.The regular movie's show violence for 2hours and 15 minutes and then spend the last 15 minutes explaining why violence is bad.But in this movie, you hardly see any violence, eventhough it has lot of scope for it.

There are numerous shots like this where the focus is on the characters and the bigger incidents happen in out of focus. Even when the movie goes to the climax where the vip is to be assassinated after garlanding. you dont see any long shots of big stage or decorations and a great crowd to welcome him, but you feel that it is happening. On one level for people in india and especially tamil nadu, the resemblance of the incident to rajeev gandhi's assassination will fill up the gap of the numerous people who were gathered there. The mind invariable imagines the crowd that was present at the rajeev gandhi assassination. Even if you are not aware of it, you are shown images of the the band playing , like 2,3 guys and the focus is on the band players with the audio of a big crowd around, then the next frame shows a bunch of females standing next to malli, say 6,7 women they occupy the complete frame. That is all the number of peoples you need to show that there is a crowd. And add to this the falling flower petals and the background music, you got a crowd. And again point of view shots of malli with the vip and the crowd out of focus and blurry, making your mind fill the blurry images.As the vip comes closer he cuts to a short range shot for the vip to come into focus and at that time again the frame is filled with vip and a very few people.The whole crowd scene is done.

Santosh sivan has not only used his camera techniques to overcome the budget constraints, he has used them to enhance the beauty of the movie also. The movie is a visual feast. It is one thing to go to an european country to capture the natural beauty and another thing to capture the beauty of an ordinary indian town. The movie has like 2 locations, some jungles in kerala and madras. A simple madras temple becomes beautiful in sivan's camera. But we should look at the efforts that he has taken to acheive that.How easy is it to capture the beauty of temple in a busy town??.It is definitely going to be hard so what santosh has done is he has shot the scenery shots mostly in early morning, as that is the time where there would be less crowd and it is easier to capture the pictures without any boy or a buffalo getting into the frame. you can also see scenes of airplane flying into the beautiful setting and trains crossing the bridge, which means some painful waiting and impromptu idea to capture the surrounding.

Off the whole 90 minutes of the movie sivan would have shown the close up of ayisha dhakhar atleast 15,20 minutes. He has used the beauty of ayeesha eyes to the hilt. By the end of the movie you will know the facial features of ayeesha by heart.Her expressive eyes and smile add so much to the asthetics of the movie.

It is easy to get distracted into the political environment of the movie, but sivan stays out of all the politics.There is no advice or taking sides in the movie, it clearly avoids the political side.I guess if he would have taken a pro tamilian stand, he could have made profit out of a beautiful masala movie that could whip up the sentiments of the tamilians and the general pity of indian mothers.

Sivan again stays clear of political, emotional scenes and concentrates only on the characters.He looks the story through there point of view, their losses, grievances, how they have changed etc. For example lotus the guide of malli talks like a matured guy and behaves as one for the most part, but when he sees a tree he becomes the boy that he is and starts swinging in that. Similarly malli even though a hard core terrorist, when she sees a new dress and various women posters in the room she becomes and average women posing like those womens in the poster with her dress.

The story beautifully counter points malli's action packed harsh background which is filled with death, blood and violence to the easy going, simple and loving world of the madras house filled with hope and life. From seeing children’s running with AK 47's in her old place she sees smiling kids neatly dressed in their uniform going to school.The old man at the house makes her understand the importance of love, the beauty of life itself.

There is a down side to the low budget also, from the leo toys type machine guns used to the irritating back ground music there are lot of bad things. And the budget constraint means the movie cannot have the luxury of doing a 2 and a half hour movie with slow opening and gradual development of the story or gradual transformation of malli. The movie starts right from the word go and things unfold fastly.It also meant that santosh has to keep the movie simple and not complicated it with too many moral questions and dramatics.So you will be disappointed if you are looking either for an action flick or a deeply disturbing war movie.It is a simple movie which tells the view of a terrorist to its best with the given resources.

A simple and visualy rich movie.

Cast and Credits:
Ayesha Dharker .... Malli
K. Krishna .... Lover
Sonu Sisupal .... Leader
Vishwas .... Lotus
Anuradha .... Sumitra
Bhavani .... Old Lady
Parmeshwaran .... Vasu
Gopal .... Gopal
Saravana .... Traitor
Anna Durai .... Photographer
rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Bhanu Prakash .... Perumal
Vishnu Vardhan .... Thyagu

Excpet for ayesha dharkhar and vishnu vardhan everybody else are non professional actors.

Completely amatuer performance by sonu shishupal and rajamani the music directors of the movie. The background music is loud at many places, there are times you cannot hear the dialogues at all, the BGM totally drowns the dialogues. And there are some experimentive BGM's in the movie which were totally out of place.

John malkovich was so impressed by the movie that he wrote an article about the times.He kind of became a post-facto executive producer. The reissued film's titles read "John Malkovich Presents".

Terrosit movie homepage

santhosh sivan homepage

John Malkovich's article in Newyork times

john malkovich godfathered terrorist

Excellent blog
Keep it up

Came here when I was searching for
Hazaroon khwaishe Aise


thanxs abhay :)
Its a beautiful movie with deep issues . Superb cinematography and indeed its a minimalistic movie. I got the dvd only last month.
And once again, I chance upon a movie which I must watch asap. I will, I surely will.

-- Akshaya
ghost particle,
thanxs for stopping by.

your list of movies to see is ever growing i guess :)
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