Tejas Nair | May 05, 2018
Rating – 6/10
There’s a sense of elementary flattery in Hansal Mehta’s biopic thriller Omertà, which talks more about the feats of a real-life terror man than his dispositions or motivation. With a lack of conviction, it appears like the film is trying to appease to an international audience, no doubt considering it travelled to some of the biggest film festivals around the globe, while compromising on the native roots of the central character.
The talented Rajkummar Rao plays Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a Pakistan-born British national who is out to avenge all the monstrosities done to his Muslim brothers by waging a personal war on the world. How does he hop to do that? By carrying out monstrous activities with the help of his native land and its intelligence. The biopic starts with Sheikh enticing a small group of British people and an American woman to tag along with him as they sightsee. Little do they know that Sheikh plans to keep them hostage in return for help from the British government. For an average moviegoer, this tight execution is exactly what turns them on. However, the story co-written by Mehta and Mukul Dev goes haywire afterward, turning into a convoluted mess that shows Sheikh’s multiple causes for personal rebellion with great disregard for history.
Director Mehta jinxed his biopic the moment he decided to show everything about his lead character. Unlike Danny Boyle who directed the near-perfect biopic on Steve Jobs in 2015 and very much like Neeraj Pandey who quashed it with his 2016 hagiography on M S Dhoni, Mehta tries to convey a lot of things in Omertà. The problem is that we can pretty much relate to Sheikh’s actions, and are instead more interested in knowing why he does what he does. Which is nowhere to be seen in the tight (thanks to some rapt editing by Aditya Warrior) screenplay of about 100 hours.
Rao does a decent job in handling the character and his complex nuances, but his performance hardly surpasses his previous ones. A frequent collaborator with Mehta, he did a terrific job in Shahid (2013) and Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017), yet here his deadpan expressions confused me as to what affected it: the discomfort in playing a real-life terrorist or the tepid direction. Either way, Rao tries too hard to play sport because his is the character that carries the entire weight of the film. The story briefly also focuses on the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (played by Timothy Ryan Hickernell) and on Sheikh’s personal life; everywhere the actors hardly make an impression. I would even go and say that Omertà is Rao’s game and his only, despite the surprising dull performance.
Ishaan Chhabra’s meaty score is another highlight of Omertà which elevates the viewing experience. I should note that even though the biopic has its flaws, it ends up as a treaty affair for an audience gasping for thrillers. The score supports Sheikh’s activities as he goes on a rampage to wreak havoc. Plus, there is a lot going on here, from Sheikh’s work as a spy for the Pakistan intelligence to his connections to the 9/11 attack. For someone who gets excited about the topic of terrorism and how one man’s sociopathy can break entire institutions, Omertà delivers a punchy punch as a thriller. It is, therefore, only when you move out of the theater that you will start calling the plotline out for being sketchy and insufficient. It is only as a biopic that it fails.
A brief study of the historical background of the real-life personality and his multitudinous actions is important to understand and appreciate the little mastery that Omertà manages to craft. Which is why it is not suitable for everyone – a quality unusual for a Bollywood film. But, then director Mehta has not created this biopic with an Indian audience in mind, which makes it all the more interesting for the viewers of the world.
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