Omerta, the film, starts on a deeply disconcerting note, a sorrowful wailing of a woman fills your ears, as the screen stays dark, we are not shown who is wailing, what religion they are, who is hurting them, all you get is the deeply horrifying cry that churns your stomach. Yes, this is a film that will not comfort you, even for a minute; it will throw, at you, the most ghastly, spine-chilling bits of reality of the world we live in and to which we are completely oblivious. The film explores the lives of two kinds of victims, the ones who are victimized and then start living their everyday lives and the others, who are deeply affected and give-in to radicalization and seek revenge. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh is the later; he is a London based, Pakistan origin Terrorist. He was an integral part of several terrorist activities in the last two decades, including the 9/11 and 26/11 attacks. It is a given that you will hate this man. This monster is a product of the irrational, demonic rage stemmed from seeing the atrocities committed towards his community.
Omerta, is a documentation of this terrorist’s life since the seed of revenge or Holy War is sowed in his head. Omerta means, a code of silence of an event or a plan; it is an Italian word. It is interesting why they chose to call this film Omerta. What is the silence the filmmaker is referring to ? The silence of the establishments across the world, whose hypocrisy nurtures and breeds people like Omar or the Silence of a father who acts indifferent to the dangerously wrong decisions his son makes or the silence that engulfs the audience after experiencing the dreadful, morbid aura of Omar Sheikh.
Omerta is a perfect companion piece to Shahid ( The movie ), also helmed by the same man, Hansal Mehta, interestingly, Shahid is also played by the same actor Rajkumar Rao; while Shahid was about an advocate who believed in peace and fought for the human rights of the Muslims wrongly branded as terrorists, Omerta is about a brainwashed monster who negates all the beliefs of Shahid. I have not seen all the cinema in the world but Omerta, is by far the most complex and almost an impossible film to make. The main tools of storytelling, Character development, emotional beats and a start, middle and an end are absent and the film is already devoid of the above three and what cripples the film further is a main character that the audience are meant to despise. As a director, Hansal Mehta tries to present to us a study of evil by delving into this wounded mind of Omar Sheikh. But the film ends up giving us an outside look at this man and an almost documentary kind of approach to the screenplay does not grip your attention as it wishes to. The film falls flat at many places as one is perplexed as to what to take away from the film. This film reminded me of Black Friday, which again, did not have a protagonist it followed and was about true acts of terrorism. However, Omerta is a more difficult film to pull-off because, Black Friday did not have any protagonist but Omerta has an antagonist at the fore, which is more tricky to deal with and how do you make a 100 minute film and engage the audience when you are showing a man who is actually responsible for heinous crimes against humanity. Hansal Mehta, treads a fine line here, a slight lean on the other side would suggest that the film is advocating the rage of these terrorists by sympathizing to their plight and the atrocities they had to face but through a carefully crafted screenplay, he comes out safe without ever displaying any hint of sympathy for the monsters. Now, to do that what he needs is a ‘careful ‘screenplay but does that actually turn out to be a great screenplay, sadly, it does not. As an audience, you are not even sure if you can laugh at a joke this man cracks, I held myself back from laughing, as he jokes, while he, very charmingly, lures tourists into kidnapping. Hence, this film is, or has to be, as cautious as it is brave.
Rajkumar Rao has proven time and again that he is an extraordinary talent and is willing to go any lengths to make a character or a film work. Here too, he is no different, he is believable as a man driven by rage and hatred but unfortunately, he does not have much to work with as we get a bird’s eye view of the proceedings and are never exploring the psychology of Omar Sheikh. Because the writing does not give him enough matter to chew into, Rajkumar smartly, directs his skills into building an unshakeable aura around his character and makes sure he gets every posture and every smile of this man, spot-on. It’s a shame that we do not get a character study of this evil man, instead are fed with the process of his hiring into the ISI and his brawls with the fellow terrorists and his exchanges with his father, you see these scenes, with Omar Sheikh in them, from a distance. There is a scene in the film, where Omar gets into a fist fight with one of his fellow trainees in the ISI camp. As the two go against each other, you sit in that dark hall and wonder, where does this thing, called War, end. Here is an Islamic Terrorist fighting with another one, this scene in a way exemplifies the basic aspect of human psyche; we will find a reason to fight anything or anyone, it is just the way of nature, you wonder what being ‘Civilized ‘actually means in a world where you do not need a religion or a caste or color to fight over. The bubbling inner instinct to fight, finds its own reasons and justifications to fight something. This is where the victory of Omerta lies, it makes you think.
This film is so dense in its conceptualization of telling the story of this man and so intense in its commentary towards the most complex Political and human issues, that the technicalities of filmmaking do not seem significant to be paid attention to. The art of cinema lends itself beautifully to emotion and conflict but the story that Hansal Mehta chose to tell does not fit into the cinematic art form as you wish it had, there is just not enough that you can play with, in this material. One cannot judge this film to be good or bad as this is the best version of this story that could have been made into a film, because Mehta, tells it as it is but does not succeed in making great cinema. Mehta’s skill in direction still shines through in some scenes. In a scene, there are two principal characters sitting in a Dhaba and are waiting for a car, they leave as the car arrives, stealthily two other men in the same Dhaba get up and walk into another car parked beside and follow them; this subtle scene informs us how unaware we can be of our sinister surroundings; you only wish there was more of this brilliance in the film.
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You can always be glad that someone has attempted to make a film about the birth of terrorism and why it thrives in a politics infested world but you end up wondering if it would have made any difference at all, had it been a debate on the evening news. This story could be told only in the way Mehta chose to tell it, there is nothing more you can do with the material. A step here, it gets defensive of terrorism, a step there, it becomes judgmental; the balance that Mehta struggles to maintain is praiseworthy.