Rajkummar Rao’s ‘Omerta’ Tells You Everything Except WHY

What can you learn from ‘Omerta’ about Omar Saeed Sheikh that you couldn’t from a 2-minute Google search? Nothing.

Published
Bollywood
3 min read
A still of Rajkummar Rao in ‘Omerta’ as notorious terrorist Omar Saeed Sheikh.
i

It’s a riveting story; a privileged boy, who attended all the best schools, who got into the prestigious London School of Economics, threw it all away to pursue a ‘holy war’ against infidels and the West.

Why?

One would think Rajkummar Rao-starrer Omerta would go some way towards answering that crucial question, but it doesn’t.

The boy in question is Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British citizen, who grows up to be a high-ranking terrorist convicted in the 1994 kidnapping of four foreign tourists in Delhi, the subsequent 1999 hijacking of Air India flight AI-814 by his compatriots to secure his release from prison, and the 2002 widely publicised beheading of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

*Backstory Not Included

While Omerta portrays what seems like the abject psychopathy of Omar – the crazed bloodlust, rapid personality changes, cold disregard for his new wife – what it doesn’t do is flesh out his motivations, his beginnings, his rationale. Instead, what we get is the stock-standard “You Americans are killing my brothers and sisters” that we expect from terrorist movies.

Omar is shown to be moved to action by photos of Muslims being slaughtered in Bosnia – but there’s no development of what the Bosnian war was all about, or what happened to Muslims there, or even what he saw when he travelled there that affected him so much, apart from a cursory ‘Aid won’t help, only jihad helps’ speech from a militant.

Later, his switch in focus from Bosnia to Kashmir is much too abrupt to be convincing (“Seeing photos from Kashmir, their plight is just as bad as that of our Bosnian brothers and sisters”, or something to that effect).

On top of this, there is no mention at all of how this specific rage at the condition of Muslims in Bosnia or Kashmir is transferred to the West and Americans, culminating in the sadistic joy Omar takes in beheading Pearl who he earlier derided for being both Jewish and American.

Ham-Handed Political Tint

Omerta spends a great deal of time establishing that Omar is a very pious Muslim. One can’t help but feel that this would be time better spent in filling out his character beyond “crazy and religious”. At no point is he challenged, or put in conflict with anybody over his extremist ideology – or for that matter, with anyone at all.

The portrayal of Pakistan as his safe haven, with a coterie of generals eating out of the palm of his hand, lacked subtlety. In a political climate in which Muslims are routinely demonised, no care was taken to bring any nuance to this character – rather, Omerta appears to have gone out of its way to portray Omar as a Muslim who all other Muslims obeyed and followed, and Pakistan as his guardian angel.

News Reports, Dramatised

Omerta appears to be nothing more than a dramatisation of the three events that made Omar notorious, and little else. There is no connecting storyline between the events, the timeline is not chronological, and the few glimpses into his personal life – laboured and awkward conversations with his meek father who seems unconcerned by his killing – add almost nothing to his character.

Add to this the complete absence of substantive female characters, and what you have is a one-dimensional portrayal of discrete events, strung loosely together. The riveting part of this story – a convincing reason for why an educated and privileged man like Omar would turn to radicalism and murder – is completely missing.

Nothing new about Omar Saeed Sheikh will be learned in watching this movie that couldn’t be learned by a quick look through Wikipedia.

(With inputs from Sabika Razvi.)

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