Omerta : Movie Review
2.5 stars out of 5 (barely above average)
Director : Hansal Mehta
Hindi (English subtitles available), 2018
Omerta hits the ground running. It is terrific to witness what comes across as a frisson-inducing fusion of documentary-style coverage and thrilling cinema. A terrorist is let loose by his organization. His arrives in the country which is arguably the world's best destination for all manner of carnage. You sense he is a bomb waiting to go off while innocently chatting up his targets, as the hand-held camera covers an impressive sweep up the immense girth of the Qutub Minar. After coming in, his first encounter with a woman is a savage explosion, a one-of-a-kind in Indian cinema. If he does to India what he did to that lady, then he will accomplish what 'Dengis' Khan never could...
Around half an hour into this riveted watching , we see him on a wide balcony in Britain with other youth as their leader strives to inspire them on to other avenues of self-destruction. This is where the film, hitherto inspired, degenerates permanently. The writing team of Mukul Dev and Hansal Mehta make a royal hash of what could have been an unrelentingly stunning portrait of a top terrorist belonging to the one of the most widespread and vicious extremist organizations the world has ever known.
There are two ways you can tackle any given story of an individual - one, the surface coverage which any child can do, a by-the-numbers narration, hacking off rough helicopter views of events which appear to show much but reveal nothing. Then there is the invaluable first-person perspective, not necessarily autobiographical but uncannily capturing the essence of this where you put yourself in the shoes of the individual and think how he might have thought; not only the kind of decisions he liked to make but also the ones he felt compelled to execute, the insider peeks of how he rose up the ranks, and almost equally importantly the inner workings of the sub-universe around him.
None of the latter manifest in much of the inappropriately named "Omerta" (it means the code of silence by the Mafia - of little application here). Pic is based on the real-life British terrorist of Pakistani descent Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. His onscreen character here tells his father at an early stage how deeply he feels for those dying in Bosnia and why he feels compelled to go help them. This is a young man who cares for the downtrodden, at least as per the cinema persona we see. How did that virtuous core get perverted into relentless acts of terrorism ? How did he rise up the ranks of the Al-Qaeda, to a level where he did some of the cash transactions to fund the the 9/11 WTC attack ? On these vital counts, "Omerta" admirably maintains its titular code of silence.
What about an inside look into Al Qaeda via the anti-hero? Dream on - you'll see a generic collection of sinister types and bearded mullas, not much else. Anything memorable about the recording of the training camps where these hapless youngsters are taught how to shoot bomb and kill ? Hell no, some jerk needles Omar and brave-boy Omar plugs this bully; some faux-teacher-type praises Omar about what a fine leader he'll become and Omar smiles - these kind of juvenile touches illumine the growth of a dreaded terrorist.
On being caught by the police for his first crime, an upside-down Omar is beaten black and blue by the Indian police. One senses how he will wait to take revenge for this assault. But then there is little follow-through to show the forces that fuel his antagonism. How did this extremist, converted in subsequent adulthood into a full psychopath, behave with his wife ? There's one token conversation which reveals her concern, but not much about him vis-a-vis her (extrapolating his earlier actions with a lady is a moot point). Director Mehta is very keen on the sickening sound effects of how a human body is hacked away - if only he showed similar focus with the psychodynamics of the story's central components.
The usually outstanding Rajkumar Rao with his long slew of prestige films, stumbles in his selection of this script. At the outset, he is magnificent - the quiet dynamo we know he can be. But then the role is flattened like a subcontinental roti and Omar becomes a cardboard-cut-out villain.
A Hindu like me watching this story eventually felt that the usually solid directorship of Hansal Mehta, was degenerating into cavalier Muslim bashing. When the Indian national anthem is being sung, Omar bares his buttocks and urinates. The director's intention was to show the mockery of Indian ideals by certain Pakistanis like Omar. But thanks to poor character focus, I only felt I was watching the act of a retarded moron.
Mehta may argue that the consistently noble and sensible delineation of Omar's father is the film's answer to the fact that not all Pakistanis are villains. Granted, Yes. But that is little excuse for the way the film makes a top terrorist just ease along like flotsam in a criminal streak of acts, while the gaze at his persona stagnates. I do not ask to fill him out with some redeeming shades. Remember what 'Enter the Dragon"s Han says to Bruce Lee ? "Very few people can be totally ruthless. It isn't easy. It takes more strength than you might believe". You just don't see the evolution of that strength here.
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