An unusual Indian picture about terrorism seen from the terrorists' p.o.v., "Maachis" has a lot of narrative strength and some picturesque exteriors in northern India's Punjab region, but its naive characterizations undercut interest considerably. At two-hours-plus, it should find most of its takers in related markets, where its politically charged subject matter could be a strong selling factor.

An unusual Indian picture about terrorism seen from the terrorists’ p.o.v., “Maachis” has a lot of narrative strength and some picturesque exteriors in northern India’s Punjab region, but its naive characterizations undercut interest considerably. At two-hours-plus, it should find most of its takers in related markets, where its politically charged subject matter could be a strong selling factor.

Viran (Tabu) and her brother Jassi live on an isolated farm. One day the police, hunting for a terrorist, come by on a tip and arrest the innocent Jassi. He returns home weeks later, a broken man. Outraged by this unwarranted brutality, Jassi’s best friend, Pali (Chandrachur Singh), who is engaged to Viran, takes to the hills to join a group of anti-government terrorists. Viran eventually joins him in the mountain camp, where the group’s leader (Om Puri) is organizing the assassination of a minister. Film’s main set piece shows him blowing up the minister’s car on a bridge with a bazooka. After that, the band quickly falls apart from in-fighting.

Unfortunately, the only convincing performance is Puri’s embittered, introspective leader, who rants on about his grudges against the authorities and harks back to India’s bloody partition 50 years ago (giving an inkling of how deep-seated terrorists’ grievances can be).

Looking lifted from a slick TV show, the two attractive young principals, Singh and Tabu, are given minimal material to make their characters plausible. Worse, the script (penned by director Gulzar) frequently flouts logic for effect , as in the scene in which Pali, now on the police’s most wanted list, returns home for a visit that endangers the whole family.

Foreigners may feel lost by the film’s politics, but it scarcely matters that Pali belongs to one group rather than another. The fact that viewers are asked to identify with Pali and Viran to the end, despite what they think and do, indicates that helmer Gulzar doesn’t take his characters very seriously. In one stupefying scene that runs completely counter to audience emotion, the hero Pali witnesses Puri’s leader blowing up a bus full of innocent people and immediately decides to become a terrorist, too.

Pic excited much debate on its release in India about whether it could be construed as pro-terrorist. Police brutality, against which all legal recourse is shown as useless, is persuasively depicted as one reason why local folk feel “the country is not ours.” But pic generally sidesteps political issues and uses terrorist acts strictly for dramatic effect.

Music by Vishal includes a few obligatory song-and-dance numbers. Tech credits are generally well done.

Maachis

(INDIAN)

Production

A Pan Pictures production. (International sales: National Film Development Corp.) Produced by R.V. Pandit. Directed, written by Gulzar.

Crew

Camera (color), Manmohan Singh; music, Vishal; art direction, Nitin Desai; sound, Narinder Singh. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 11, 1997. Running time: 132 MIN.

With

Pali ..... Chandrachur Singh Viran ..... Tabu Terrorist Leader ..... Om Puri
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