After graduating from the Film and Television Institute of India in 1984, Santosh Sivan began his film career as a cinematographer, eventually working with such legendary Bollywood directors as Aditya Bhattacharya (Raakh) and the always innovative Mani Rathnam (Iruvar, Dil Se). In 1995 he moved into directing himself with the children's film Halo, which was featured in several children's film festivals. He gained international renown for his second feature, The Terrorist in 1998, a harrowing fact-based drama about a teenage female assassin that so impressed actor John Malkovich that he arranged its distribution in the United States. Malli, a more low-key drama about an impoverished little girl, followed in 1999. His Bollywood epic Asoka, a major artistic departure, was released in 2001. Sivan serves as cinematographer on all his directorial efforts, giving his films a distinct, lush visual beauty.