In Hansal Mehta’s “Omerta”, Rajkummar Rao plays the role of the Islamist militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was convicted of kidnapping and killing American journalist Daniel Pearl.
The film traces Omar’s journey from his life as a student at the London School of Economics to a radicalised militant with links to the 9/11 attacks.
Omar, a strapping man who grew up in London and is currently in a Pakistani jail, was also involved in the kidnapping of four foreign tourists in New Delhi in the mid-1990s. Not too much information about him is available in the public domain, and that means Mehta is left to his own devices as he fills the holes in the story and uses only major incidents involving Omar as journey markers.
Mehta could have served up a cautionary tale of a promising young man who turned to fundamentalism and committed horrible crimes in the name of religion, but he never gets his hands dirty enough to delve deep into why Omar turned out the way he did.
Much like the camera, Mehta follows his subject from a distance, sketching out some incidents with what feels like gratuitous detail, while skimming over other events. The film makes just a passing mention of Omar being one of the prisoners released after the hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight in 1999, and does not dwell on Omar’s alleged links to the 9/11 bombers, both seemingly important plot points.
Mehta styles the film like a run-of-the-mill production. The acting is below par with the exception of Rao. The accents are atrocious, the dialogue is trite, and even Rao is saddled with an awkward British accent that he seems to forget in some scenes and remembers with a vengeance in others.
“Omerta” goes for effect rather than depth by focusing on Omar’s modus operandi rather than his intentions and ideologies. Even as a thriller, it is tepid, never upping the ante. Rajkummar Rao, one of the best actors in the Hindi film industry, puts in a staccato performance. Even he is not able to rise above the stilted script.