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Posted at: May 4, 2018, 5:44 PM; last updated: May 4, 2018, 5:44 PM (IST)MOVIE REVIEW: OMERTA

A portrait of censure and loathing

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Film: Omerta

  • Cast: Rajkumar Rao, Rajesh Tailang, Blake Allan, Keval Arora, Nisha Geoege, Asif Gillani
  • Director Hansal Mehta
A portrait of censure and loathing
A still from Omerta

Johnson Thomas

The Italian word Omerta, used in connection with the mafia, refers to the attitude of ordinary people who look the other way when confronted by criminal acts. But Hansal Mehta’s film is not about the people inadvertently supporting the acts of terrorism by their silence. It’s about the terrorist himself, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh(Rajkumar Rao) who looks so ordinary that one would be forgiven for thinking him harmless.

A biopic on the British terrorist of Pakistani descent who is claimed to have had a hand in several kidnappings, responsible for Wall street journal scribe Daniel Pearl’s murder and involved in financing the 9/11 operation among other acts of terrorism, this dramatization uses file pictures, some documentary footage and fastidious facts to put forward a picture of evil that is hard to overlook. 

Omar Saeed, a well educated young man belonging to a  middle class family settled in London has this urgent need to avenge the indignities on his community committed during the Bosnian strife. As a first, he ineptly attempts to kidnap a few foreigners, gets caught and incarcerated and eventually comes out of prison in exchange for hostages of a sky-jacked Air India aircraft. He then goes to Afghanistan gets trained in a brutal terrorist boot camp and thereafter emerges as a respectable leader of sorts, settling down to a respectable married life in Karachi. After that comes Daniel Pearl’s beheading and 9/11. 

Hansal Mehta’s take is devoid of emotional resonance. The plotting is scrupulously lean and the drama lies in the acts of criminality being exposed to the naked eye rather than the emotions raging behind it. He doesn’t allow for any empathy or sympathy to creep into the viewer’s mind.

By using a title that is critical of human weakness and portraying a cold-blooded heartless killer in the grip of an irascible spree of vengeance within the narrative spiel, Mehta is exhorting the viewer to be more aware and responsible. There’s obviously more to terrorism than one unhinged mind just as there’s more to vengeance than the killing of innocents.

Rajkumar Rao’s immersive performance as the cold-blooded brutal terrorist without heart is a fascinating study of a deranged mind that seems benign and harmless at first glance. The fluid pacing, the sharp editing, chilling background score, goose-flesh inducing cinematography and accurate detailing amounts to a concerted dehumanising that is tough on the senses. This is a stark portrait of a human being gone wrong and is likely to give you nightmares for a long time.

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