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Review: ‘Omerta’ Opens Up A Nasty Pandora’s Box About Omar Saeed Sheikh

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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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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