A riveting, if not nail-biting, character-driven thriller, Hansal Mehta's Omerta does not bank upon the established devices of the genre. It employs a judicious, subtle blend of real-life events and dashes of dramatic licence to probe the radicalization of a young Pakistani-origin British national. In recounting a widely documented tale, the screenplay hits the right thriller buttons. When violence is perpetrated indiscriminately and without any moral context created with the aid of a detailed back story, it can only be deeply disconcerting. Omerta is just that and therein lies its success.
With crisp editing and a runtime of 97 minutes, the film never lets you lose attention and the gripping narrative style ensures you are on the edge throughout. Rao proves his mettle once again as he smoothly gets into his cold character who can switch accents and personalities with equal ease – and does it all for the sole purpose of serving the ‘holy war’.
Hansal Mehta has fashioned a second wind out of choosing subjects – Shahid, Aligarh, Simran – that deal in various hands of tragic disclosure. Unlike other Indian biopic specialists, he invests in forgotten headlines about underdogs who remain under to expose a society that keeps them there. There has, however, always been an imbalanced sense of intimacy in his treatment of these themes – one that extends beyond dry information into the realms of opinionated political inclination. Omerta, too, bears this burden in its confident strokes of a troubled neighbouring nation and its shady bureaucracy. But Omar Sheikh’s dispassionate, detached world is an anomaly in context of the director’s storytelling palette. It is clinical, and not as personal, and therefore not as flawed as his regular leaps of faith. We don’t fully understand the character, and we’re conditioned to fear what we don’t understand. This amounts to why Omerta is a decent, focused film. I’m not sure it could have been any more than that.
Omerta is a work of true moral force; it is, at the risk of sounding fancy, a motion picture for our times. The acting all round is brilliant in that it never feels like acting, but like actors tag-teaming to carry scenes forward. Probably the most beautifully shot Hindi movie of the last two years, Omerta's lanes and its by-lanes are captured in all their stirrings, and the decorative lights in the Muslim neighbourhood become a part of the movie's texture, almost. Cinematographer Anuj Dhawan lights the scenes using natural sources, often using the light rippling in through curtains, doors and windows.And Mehta then encloses this illusion of the netherworld with the vaporous beauty of the real world; Omerta seems to achieve beauty without artifice.