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Malli’s Choice April 18, 2007

Posted by rachaelg in Female Power, motherhood, Power, The Terrorist, women and war.
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Did anyone else notice how the cause Malli was fighting for was never really explained?  I don’t even think we ever learned the country she was in (though it seemed clear it was India).  The “Leader” remained nameless and so did the “VIP.”  By leaving these kind of details ambiguous, The Terrorist was making a decision to avoid making a political statement (or to make the statement less overtly) and to focus instead on Malli and her journey.  (I felt like her face filled the screen for almost the entire movie. )  

Malli is only 19 and yet willfully makes the decision to become a martyr for her cause.  Her journey and short stay on a farm before the assassination, however, change her and she begins to rethink her decision.  (By the way, she never says any of this… it’s all conveyed through those close-up shots of her face and flashbacks to when she took care of a wounded comrade.)  In the end, it is left ambiguous whether she goes through with it (though I’m tempted to say she didn’t, because the last shot is of her letting go of the trigger.)  Her reason for not doing it?  She thinks she’s pregnant.  (If anyone can enlighten me as to how this happened, please do… I think I missed something.)  Her “maternal instincts” end up being stronger than her belief in her cause for “the future of her people.”  Or is it something else?  Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions about motherhood because this is a class about women; it could be that in her time outside of her training camp (maybe her first time out ever) she experienced a different kind of life.  A normal one.  Though the man at the farm comes off annoying at first, he ultimately shows Malli what it means to live day-to-day without some kind of heroic vision for the future (he has set the table every day for his wife though she has been in a coma for 7 years).  Learning that she is pregnant, Malli might be considering the opportunity to have that kind of life (or at least giving her child the chance to have a life).  But would a man in her position have had the same doubts?  Probably not, even if he had learned he fathered a child. 

I don’t think we are supposed to view her doubts as weakness, but then how do we view them?  Would she be stronger or just more brainwashed if she stuck with it?  Did we want her to go through with it or did we want her to run away and have her baby?  Which route gives her more power?  In one sense, she could do the masculine thing and die a martyr.  In another, she could abandon her life as she knew it (kind of ironic considering the other option is also “abandonment of life”) and try to find meaning in everyday life as a mother (if they would let her after failing the mission?) which takes a lot of strength of will, too.  I’m having trouble sorting out my thoughts about this film, in case you couldn’t tell, and any comments/thoughts would be appreciated.

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1. joannawasik - April 18, 2007

Rachael, I made many of the same observations as you did. Like you said, the camerawork in the movie tended to emphasize Malli’s face over everything else that was going on. I think that the reason for this was to show her reaction and inner turmoil more than the external events– you mention that her cause/location is kept vague intentionally to make the movie more about her, and I think that is right. In general, I think the film was interested in humanizing terrorism (literally “putting a face to the act”) and juxtaposing the loaded and violent word ‘terrorist’ with Malli’s soft, feminine features. This is the exact opposite of what I expected from looking at the DVD cover!

As for her decision to live: I don’t think you’re wrong in assuming that it was a direct result of her finding out she was pregnant. (By the way, I think that the wounded comrade you mention is the father of the child– they seemed very intimate and loving with one another). To me, Malli’s having to strap plastic explosives directly over her womb was a poignant physical reminder of the anguish that she must have felt when she realized that she would have to kill her innocent offspring. And, as you mention, her dilemma is clearly unique to womanhood. She is not afraid of killing random innocent bystanders, just her child; also, a man who had fathered a child would know that his child could feasibly live on with or without him. I think the end of the film was meant to pit Malli’s biologically creative capacities against her chosen destructive ones; it is hard to say if, by not pushing the red button, she ‘chose’ to privilege the former or if her female body ‘chose’ this path for her.

To sum up: I’m just as ambivalent as you are on the point of power in the film. I think it’s impossible to say whether going through with the assasination or not would give her more power (and things get even more complicated if one drags morality into the question), for an argument could be made for both.

2. sindhub - April 18, 2007

The film is ‘inspired’ by the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the former Indian prime minister, by a woman known as Dhanu who was fighting for a Sri Lankan ethnic minority (Tamil) secessionist group (the LTTE): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Terrorist

But yeah, it seems that the director set out to make a film about the everyday face of terrorism and not about a specific political crisis. I think that the sentiments expressed in this film could apply to a lot of violent conflicts around the world, especially when it comes to the chocies that the women in those conflict zones must have to make.

It’s interesting that while Dhanu carried out her mission in real life, Malli seemingly doesn’t… I don’t think this just has to do with the character of Malli wanting to live a ‘normal’ life and have a child; I think it is also the director’s conscious choice to comment on the vicious cycle of violence, and how it not only ends the suicide bomber’s life but future lives (both literally in terms of the baby, and figuratively in terms of ‘future generations being inspired’ by Malli’s sacrifice, as her team kept on telling her throughout the movie).

I don’t think that her choice to not follow through with the plan (if that’s what we interpret it as) necessarily precludes her having power. The old man she stays with even says earlier in the movie that “motherhood is to be revered,” so I guess this brings us back to the question of male/female power.


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