Omerta had the same effect on me as most psychological horror films—it gave me chills, made me uncomfortable, had me frown throughout, and got me wondering about the presence (and thankfully, more prevalent, absence) of ‘evil’.
As often happens after watching a psychological horror/thriller, one tries and eventually fails to understand why such evil exists and how it chooses certain mediums to express itself. Maybe that’s why there is terror in the word terrorism.
In this case, evil chooses Omar Sheikh— a well-spoken, well-bred, charming man with closet psychopathic tendencies. More specifically, he is a dropout from the London School of Economics, eventually turning into one of the world’s more dangerous terrorists. The man is motivated by the chilling belief that the world at large is constantly conspiring against Islam and that he is a “saviour”. His hallucinatory thoughts are only encouraged from those who benefit from a disturbed world.
In hindsight, terrorists like him are probably deeply fearful people, imagining a threat from everyone and everything. That’s just a theory. One also wonders—did the horrific crimes in Bosnia and Kashmir make a sane man violent? Or did these incidents merely ‘trigger’ a brutal streak that was lying dormant?
Writer-director Hansal Mehta is in no mood to delve into the ‘whys’ of Sheikh’s descent into terrorism. There is a limited portion where the young man is deeply disturbed by the bloodshed in Bosnia and later Kashmir (the audience is subjected to truly shocking, gruesome and, frankly, uncalled for imagery of murdered men, women and children). But his main motivation remains a war with the rest of humanity— the so-called infidels.
Which is why he accuses kidnapped victims of injustice against Muslims, when in reality, they are just harmless tourists. Any rational argument that it’s governments that start wars and not ordinary people is simply not understood by Sheikh. You can see, as he towers over his victims with a gun that he really enjoys his power over them. He soaks in admiration and “respect” from his bosses and boasts about it to his beleaguered father.
There are several scenes that will unsettle you, including the unbearably cruel murder of a journalist Daniel Pearl. But one of the most chilling scenes shows the 2008 Taj Mahal hotel terror attack where he wonders why “the boys were wasting ammunition when the targets were in the ballroom.” He then he goes on to make hoax calls, leading to a near-war situation between India and Pakistan.
However, the story is glaringly short of complexity. The film does not mention Sheikh’s current status (in jail) and his suicide attempt in 2014. No Muslim character, not even his father, seriously reprimand/protest against his actions. The reactions of the women—a mother we only hear about, and a wife who appears in two scenes—is absent. The portrayal of his journey is too simplistic as is the representation of people—the lack of diverse opinions when showing a community is plain odd.
You’d expect a look of remorse and wouldn’t believe a human-being could have the temerity to smile on being arrested for participating in such horrific crimes. That’s till the film shows us real footage of Omar Sheikh beaming as he’s taken into custody. In that sense, Omerta often turns into a docu-drama— a clever stroke.
Several Hindi films have explored terrorism from Bombay to Black Friday to Kurbaan and even Mehta’s Shahid. They’ve all had a very different approach and perspective.
Omerta makes for a gripping, even if extremely difficult, watch. And clearly, its stance is not having a stance.
Sonia Chopra is a critic, columnist and screenwriter with over 15 years of experience. She tweets on @soniachopra2