A curious case of a baffling paradox, Hansal Mehta’s OMERTA starring his favorite Rajkummar Rao ( why the extra ‘m’ ask the actor) uses everything sensationalism, terrorism, radicalism, intensity, a bizarre déjà vu – Rajkummar Rao the actor who played a prey in SHAHID (2013) plays the hunter in OMERTA, but the actor and the filmmaker fail to make the audience ‘trapped’ in this baffling, uneven, uninteresting and emotionless account of a man who is reportedly involved in one of India’s most shocking incidents of terror.
The menu of Bollywood’s cocktails of quirky ‘mafia’ comedies stirred and shaken by Bhardwaj, Jha and Kashyap that long for the intoxicating desire to cash on India’s desi and rural exotica especially from the Hindi heartland of U.P. and Bihar, receives a wicked punch in the name of art and cinema by Hansal Mehta that has a playful title OMERTA – which means a vow of silence that is practiced in Italian mafia.
Obviously it’s not on Italian mafia and ironically, the movie is ‘silent’ on vital issues and required insights but is willing to speak (read showcase) on the achievements of the dreaded British-Pakistani terrorist Omar Saeed Sheikh who is currently reported to be imprisoned in Pakistan.
Hansal Mehta shoots this 96-minute biopic in semi docu feature style with a surreal belief that the target audience will be hooked as we are introduced to the already intense looking Omar Saeed Sheikh (Rajkummar Rao). The young well to do Sheikh has abandoned a degree at the London School of Economics during the early 1990’s to answer the call of a holy war. Sheikh is radicalized by the inhumanity committed against Bosnian Muslims during the civil war that raged in the former Yugoslavia at that time.
The problem with OMERTA as a film is that before you are settled with the protagonist and find any connect, the character has already made up his mind. This is in contrast to what happened in SHAHID with the same director and actor. In SHAHID, the radicalization comes because of a personal trauma while in OMERTA; an act of inhumanity far off on unknown people nurtures the hate giving birth to violent ideas of retaliations. Further we see erstwhile brilliant Rajkummar Rao struggling with his British accent, has already landed in Delhi to kidnapped foreign nationals for a cause. Only when Rajkummar Rao speaks in Hindi and English as spoken normally by Indians, he is seen comfortable.
The history of Sheikh is known to people who are diligently following world politics. From the 1999 Kandahar plane hijack incident to the alleged abduction and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 to the alleged 9/11 links and the hoax call in 2008 after Mumbai attack, Hansal Mehta and Mukul Dev give the account in collage with some actual footage while unnecessary footage to the Pearl and Delhi kidnapping is given. The reason behind this baffling paradox which the movie shares right from the start when we get a déjà vu of SHAHID, never ends.
Hansal Mehta fails to explain and convince the audience in the wicked, violent and evil traits of Sheikh. The writer director had an opportunity to use the dreaded terrorist as a tool and explored a taut, nail biting and thought provoking cinema on extremisms but fails poorly by maintaining a defeating silence on the core issue and rather settling with a docu feature on the dreaded terrorist Sheikh Omar that keeps on asking questions on this – what, when kind of cinema that also pertinently asks ‘how’.