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December 5, 1997


The Making of The Terrorist

Shobha Warrier

Ayesha Dharker in The Terrorist. Click for bigger pic!
It was an appalling set of roads to travel on, the dust spiralling up from the wheels, vehicles swaying in and out of the traffic, the bumps and cracks giving axle-makers and the driver something to think about... "So tranquil," says Ayesha Dharker blissfully, giving the impression that in her native Bombay, the cars belch fumes like an ONGC fire and the vehicles whizz along strung bumper to bumper.

"There is no discipline on the Madras roads," says Ayesha, who is playing the terrorist in Santosh Sivan's The Terrorist.

We talked about her college she misses quite regularly during shoots. After every film she decides to draw the line till another, still more irresistible offer makes classes look a dud. Like the one in The Terrrorist. The film centres around the girl, Malli, who has been called upon to assassinate a political leader. The protagonist bears some similarity to Dhanu, the human bomb who killed Rajiv Gandhi.

I notice a pair of crutches in the car, a result of excessive running when she has a weak knee. It was the role that required all the running. One day after a shot she found herself on the floor unable to get up. But she appears to quite like moving around on crutches.

We swung off the horrendous highway to run over some blank swampy terrain, zig-zagging past the wet bits till we finally hove to at a coconut farm. At the centre were some old houses. In one of them, in a tiny, dingy room, Santosh Sivan was setting up the camera. On the walls were pasted photographs of known and unknown people and, down below, looked every inch the disorderly room of a teenager.

I sat down watching how Sivan meticulously arranged the room. Once everything was in order, he shouted, "Where's Ayesha?" With a dramatic tapping on the floor she came in on her crutches, later abandoning them to walk unsteadily, looking as if she was going to fall.

Click for bigger pic!
"You wore a maroon shirt in the last shot."

Somebody handed her the garment.

"I was really happy when we were shooting in Chalakkudy (in Kerala) because I didn't have to change my shirt at all. It was the same jeans, same shirt and the same bag for me throughout the shooting," Ayesha says, half in complaint, while going in again to change.

This is the first time I have been at a film shoot and the activities left me somewhat perplexed. Everything looked so different, so ordinary, so... Everyday.

The impression I had gained from what little I saw of it on television was that the artists would smear on a thick coat of paint, eye themselves anxiously in the mirror about as often as they breathe (furthering the cause of dandyism, don't you think?). I thought there would be shouts of cut, action, the works. But here... Ayesha rummaged in the suitcase while Sivan told her what was expected of her. Her hair was loose and uncombed.

One rehearsal later, the director called, "Taking."

Ayesha did exactly what Sivan had told her. It got over soon. It was a stunning performance. It was amazing to see the intense emotions in her huge, expressive eyes. I wanted to say, "Here's to you, kid." But silence was the norm there.

Click for bigger pic!
I sat for another shot in stuffy room, apparently part of a farmer's house. The wife was lying ill on a cot. Sivan said he was going to shoot an early morning shot. The arclight outside the room gave the suitable impersonation of the rising sun, falling across the woman's hair. Almost before we knew it the shot was taken.

The director turned to Ayesha and asked her to mug up a long piece in Tamil. She sat down and wrote the Tamil dialogues in the Roman script.

"I was nervously awaiting this scene. I don't know how I will remember and deliver all these Tamil lines," she said before sitting down.

The sky was getting darker by now and the rains were almost on us. Ayesha raised her head.

"I enjoy the rain. It was raining when I left Bombay. When I reached Kerala, it was raining there. When we reached here, it started pouring here too. The shooting got affected. But I enjoyed it."

All for the good, of course, but I had to get away, And as I left the heavens opened up against a background of thunder and lightning. I looked back at the cluster of houses in which, oblivious to all that happened outside, a small group of people were poring over an intense drama of hate, love and guilt. Makes one think, it does.

The Terrorist

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