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January 21, 2000
Everyone loves this Terrorist
Buoyed by positive reviews by some of the top film critics in the United States, Santosh Sivan's Tamil film, The Terrorist is destined to become a mini art-house hit, if its first weekend's box office figures are any indication.
The Terrorist, which was made in 1998 and provoked by the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, opened on Friday on one screen in the US -- at The Screening Room, a 150-seat art-house theater in downtown Manhattan.
The film was advertised as a one-week engagement.
According to film's distributor, the Los Angeles-based Phaedra Cinema, in the opening weekend (Friday, January 14, to Monday, January 17,) the film earned approximately $ 13,600 -- breaking "all records" at the theater.
"Each and every show was sold out," Steve Slome, a spokesperson for Phaedra Cinema, told rediff.com "They had to turn people away. No other film has done this well at The Screening Room in its first weekend."
During the weekdays (January 18 and 19), Slome added, that The Terrorist did approximately $ 3,000 of business per day. He added there is a real buzz about The Terrorist and he and the distribution company's president, Gregory Hatanaka, had received queries from several small art-house theaters across the country for the film.
The "buzz" that Slome referred to started with a 2,823-word feature that actor John Malkovich wrote in the Sunday Arts and Leisure section of the January 9 issue of The New York Times. Nearly one third of the story was about the joy of discovering The Terrorist at a film festival.
One of Hollywood's most acclaimed actors, Malkovich came across Sivan's film at the Cairo international film festival. Malkovich was chairman of the festival. He loved the film so much that he agreed to 'present' it to American audiences.
In the article The Accidental Patron: I Owe It to Cairo, Malkovich referred to Sivan's film as 'a small masterpiece of economy, grace and precision.'
'The film is most elegantly photographed,' he wrote, 'with the type of cinematography critics invariably refer to as lush, especially if it costs millions of dollars.'
However, Malkovich added, The Terrorist cost a mere $ 50,000.
He praised Sivan, saying the director's 'touch, patience and assuredness are plentifully in evidence' in the film. He added that the film 'features an absolutely hypnotic performance' by Ayesha Dharkar.
A week later, Roger Ebert, the highly influential film critic who writes film reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times, discussed The Terrorist on his popular nationally syndicated television show, Roger Ebert & the Movies.
Speaking on the show, Ebert called The Terrorist an 'extraordinary and important new film (which) puts a human face on the anonymous terrorists that we read about in the headlines everyday.'
Ebert's guest on the show Michaela Pereira of ZDTV's Internet Tonight was even more enthusiastic about the film.
'I have never been so affected by watching a film,' Pereira said on Ebert's show. 'This film stuck with me all week. Out of all the films we reviewed this week, this was my favorite.'
The other films reviewed on the show included some that are being touted as major 1999 Oscar contenders -- Snow Falling on Cedars, Angela's Ashes and Girl, Interrupted.
Both Ebert and Pereira gave 'two enthusiastic thumbs-up' to The Terrorist.
Reviewing the film for The New York Times on January 14, A O Scott wrote: 'Sivan shows an ability to capture the texture of quotidian reality -- to communicate both its exquisite beauty and terrible loss -- that recalls the work of Robert Bresson, or, closer to home, Satyajit Ray.'
Scott praised the film for its cast of nonprofessional actors and small budget, adding: 'But there is nothing modest about the ambitions or talent that The Terrorist displays.'
In the not-so-cerebral New York Post, Jonathan Foreman wrote on January 14: 'Visually gorgeous despite its low budget, The Terrorist is a haunting film.'
'It's one of a number of recent serious movies (Earth, Bandit Queen) from India,' he added, 'that breaks away from the sexist, super-patriotic conventions of Bombay masala musicals. It's also sufficiently compelling to appeal to a mainstream audience.'
Phaedra Cinema's Slome said over the next few months, the film will open in several cities across the US, while continuing its run at New York city's Screening Room.
Today, The Terrorist opens at the Village VII Cinema in Hempstead, Long Island. The Village VII usually shows top Bollywood and Hollywood films.
On February 25, the film opens in Los Angeles and in Orange County in Southern California. In March, the film will show in San Diego, San Francisco, San Rafael, CA, and Seattle, Washington. Later, in April it opens in Austin, TX and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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