Starring: Rajkummar Rao; Directed by Hansal Mehta; Rating: **** (Four stars)
When a filmmaker takes on the responsibility of telling the story of one of the most notorious terrorists in the world, there is always the risk of humanizing the mass murderer, underlining his barbarism with a cultural/religious rationale that may perhaps be intelligible only to the perpetrator of the violence but nonetheless a rationale to be considered.
In ‘Omerta’ as Hansal Mehta tells the horrific intensely malevolent story of the violence committed by Omar Sheikh (played with chilling transparency by Rajkummar Rao) what emerges is a man who believes violence can set the world’s awry values right again. Not that Omar hopes to achieve that moral and political equilibrium during his lifetime. But no harm in trying, is there?
This tightly-edited nerve-wracking tale of self-righteous butchery opens with a deviously planned kidnapping of a group of foreigners in Delhi and ends with the beheading of Daniel Pearl (Timothy Ryan Hickernell) in the dead of the night when the blood-curdling sound of a throat being slit by a blunt knife (some call it halaal) pierces the stillness.
Here, I have to admit, I felt violated.
Before I proceed with more revolting descriptions of the barbarism that Mehta’s Omar brings to the screen (or maybe you wouldn’t like to hear about it anymore) this is as good a place as any to speak of the sound design. Mandar Kulkrani’s sound recording leaves nothing to chance. The incidental sounds, whether the distant sound of a gunshot or a jihadi falling from a cliff to his paradisical death, the film is a marvel of intricately detailed sound designing.
Anuj Rakesh Dhawan’s camera is a restless soul. It fidgets, it meanders, it burns its way into searching for a centre to the protagonist’s conscience. Indeed, Omerta looks like a film (if you want to call it a film) that could do with a pause for breath. It is a restless breathless rushed and breakeneck hurl into a nemesis that no man can control.
To the life and goals of man who wants to change the world with his vigorously violent methods, Rajkummar Rao brings a smirking serenity, an imperturbable certainty to every (violent) action manned by a core of “truth” obtainable only to those who believe they are among the Chosen Ones.
I specially liked Rao’s conversations in London with his screen-father (Keval Arora). So calm so unruffled, secreting such terrible violence. Rajkummar Rao conveys the unplumbed turbulence of an ocean that’s deceptively calm on the surface. His performance is magnificent without aiming to be so.
Every bit-part of a terrorist, cop, tourist or mullah is played by people who seem to have walked in from their real habitat to be part of a group discussion on their beliefs
Regrettably Hansal Mehta and Rao do not allow us to penetrate the protagonist’s consciousness beyond a point. We only know as much about Omar Shiekh as he and his Creator (and I don’t mean Hansal Mehta) want us to. This, in a way is a desirable path to follow for us, the mute spectators. For violence, as all know, can only be penetrated fully by those who subscribe to it.
“Omerta” is not an easy film to watch. It cuts the protagonist’s movements down to size in episodic chunks and then regurgitates the vivid moments into scenes of colour-blinded documentation. There is a moment where Omar, pretending to be an ordinary tourist in Delhi named Rohit is accosted by an aggressive cop on the road who tells him bluntly that he “looks” like a Muslim.
That moment provides us with a blinding flash of recognition of the problem as to why global terrorism has come to a flashpoint. There are many dialogues and images in this film that will make you wince and squirm.
Who said life after Osama bin Laden would be easy? “Omerta” makes it no easier.