Have you ever given a thought of what transpires and churns inside the minds of people who throw themselves into the mouth of danger, despite knowing that they will never gain the State’s favour?
Hansal Mehta’s latest film “Omerta”, offers us a highly fictionalised sneak peek into the life of one of the most dreaded terrorists of the Jihadi clans, Omar Saeed Sheikh. Mehta, who is known for his deep and thoughtful psychological explorations of characters, has selected the infamous terrorist as an emblem to depict how a terrorist thinks, or how he perceives the ideas of justice, society, revenge and retribution.
The film begins with Omar, masquerading as Rohit, trying to gain the confidence of foreign tourists in India, only to abduct them for the purposes of Jihad. The narrative jumps back and forth in timelines, and the audience is gradually introduced to Omar’s lofty origins, how he left the prestigious London School of Economics, to fight the injustice meted out to the Bosnians. This is how the erudite Omar, gets involved in a ‘holy war’ and with the passage of time, he gets intrinsically intertwined with the cause, ultimately becoming the most respected person among his peers, and hence the most dreaded terrorist across the world.
Mehta peppers documentation with nuanced storytelling, the camera seldom leaves Omar’s face (radiant with jet black hair, thick beard and a pair of thin-framed spectacles) and the audience is constantly exposed to the dynamics of his life, from Omar’s own perspective. From a rigorous paramilitary training amidst picturesque, snow-clad mountains in Afghanistan to a ruthless murder of an American journalist, Omar goes from being a hot-blooded young gun to a cold-blooded terrorist.
Whenever the camera closes in on Omar, the dizzying glow emanating from his eyes hits the audience like a train of bullets. The dialogues are so well-written that by virtue of a proportionate concoction of assertion and emphasis, the audience is almost forced to put themselves in Omar’s shoes and understand his way of perceiving injustice. A pious man wielding weapons in the name of God walks and talks in front of us exuding a rigid belief system.
In this regard, mentioning the charm and unparalleled acting genius of Rajkummar Rao is sine qua non. This man has come a long way – from a reticent but ambitious family man in “City Lights” to a righteous outsider in “Newton”, to the fearless nemesis of global peace in “Omerta”, Rao with his insidious presence is the most remarkable feather in the film’s cap. Apart from this, the camera is beautifully manoeuvred to capture evocative images; from the stunning snows of Afghanistan to the dirty thoroughfares of Delhi. What is especially mentionable is how the camera strictly follows a grammar of making Omar the central point, from which actions flow and reactions flow towards or vice-versa.
However, the film is not devoid of its fair share of shortcomings. At times, “Omerta” might seem like offering just anodyne and insipid documentation of the life events of Omar Sheikh. A terrorist, who was instrumental in the 9/11 attacks as well as the Air India flight hijack incident, appears too less cultivated as a human, all the while exploring his Jihadi self. Even his scanty conversation with his wife revolves around how she should be proud of her husband’s identity, and even his father only speaks to him about how he dislikes whatever his son is doing.
A fact-by-fact narration of the events, leading up to Daniel Pearl’s assassination, lacks the flair and overwhelming yet mundane emotions which are highly admirable traits of a Hansal Mehta film. Although Omerta is based mainly on media reports, and is made with a lot of limitations in factual resources, the film could have been a tad bit more contemplative, concise and hefty.
What must not be overlooked regarding “Omerta” is the fact that it tries to ultimately bring out the human in a merciless crusader. Mehta never tries to deify Omar but leaves it to the audience to contemplate on Omar’s deeds or misdeeds. The audience is not forced to adopt a moral position, but they are just shown whatever transpired. “Omerta” refers to adhering to a strict code of silence and not divulging anything, it is an extremely balanced film. Not perhaps very politically correct, but definitely artistically justified.