Omerta: Portraying a ‘code of silence’ which speaks louder than words

The film is not like any other run-of-the-mill Hindi flick. Of course, the film revolves around the terrorist Omar Saeed Sheikh but director Hansal Mehta’s deft dealing of the subject reveals mastery

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter
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Pragati Saxena

The film’s name was a curious one. Later I realised, it was a clever one. Omerta is Italian meaning a code of silence among the mafia about criminal activities and a refusal to cooperate with the police. The subject, as has been publicised, was a complex one. The story revolves around infamous terrorist Omar Saeed Sheikh. The usual impression in the mind was, this will be another Hindi film shouting loudly ‘Bharat Mata Ki jai!’ with all the melodrama which will deafen the ears. Only the director of Shahid fame, Hansal Mehta’s name raised some hope.

But Omerta is a pleasant surprise. The film is not like any other run-of-the-mill Hindi flick. Doesn’t have a heroine, nor did it require any. Of course, the film revolves around Omar Saeed Sheikh, but the way it deals with the character reflects master craftsmanship. That a film which talks about the ‘code of silence’ begins with shrieks is in itself appealing’

The film unravels with sharp cuts from present to past, interjected with news clippings of the terror attacks, Omar was considered to be responsible for. Omar was one of the three terrorists who were released in exchange for passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814 in 1999. He was then arrested for his role in kidnapping and killing of the Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 in Pakistan and then sentenced to death by special judge of anti- terrorism court. He is still in jail waiting for his appeal to be heard.

It was about him that the former president of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf had written in his memoirs In the Line of Fire that Omar was, in fact, a recruit of the British intelligence agency MI6 for their covert operations in the Balkans but he turned traitor later on.

However, the young Omar who was born in Pakistan and brought up in England was a student of London School of Economics before he underwent a change of heart and became a dreaded terrorist. The film shows a young Omar being deeply perturbed by the atrocities on Muslims in Bosnia and wanting to help his community there, but is instead sent to Afghanistan for training and begins operations in the region.

Rajkummar Rao excels in depicting the transformation of a young sensitive boy to a cold, ruthless terrorist. He succeeds in portraying Omar as a suave educated Muslim boy with an impeccable British accent on one hand, and a cold, calm fundamentalist on the other whose sole objective is to blindly avenge the ‘injustices’ done to his community all across the world.

Hansal Mehta has been a brilliant director. He has been making films on sensitive subjects, portraying some off-track, extraordinary characters who have shades of grey and multi-dimensional personalities. But portraying Omar was particularly a difficult task as one usually falls prey to the temptation of taking sides while dealing with such an issue.

And it is there that he has succeeded. It’s almost with complete objectivity that he deals with his protagonist. His static mid shots are almost forbidding as if something very violent is about to happen and you take a sigh of relief when it doesn’t. Particularly Omar’s interaction with the kidnapped Daniel Pearl is simply par excellence. Omar’s cold cruelty and Daniel’s matter-of-fact-courage is wonderfully portrayed using darkness and close shots with no music at all.

The visual that Hansal Mehta creates with just torches while Omar brutally kills and butchers Daniel’s body conveys a kind of violence and cruelty that the Hindi commercial film industry, even with all their blood and gore, has ever been able to portray. This is a film truly of international standards—both cinematically and treatment wise. A must watch.

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