This movie is a nail-biting, character-driven thriller. Hansal Mehta's Omerta 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.
The Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh story, this man did the abduction of Western tourists in India in late 1994. He was arrested and imprisoned in Delhi.Then he was released in exchange for the IC-814 hostages in 1999, the kidnap and killing of American Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 and his trial and conviction in Pakistan, where he is still in prison awaiting judicial review - is in the public domain.
The well-crafted, fast-paced Omerta, much like Mehta's Shahid and Aligarh, focuses on a man who stands apart from the crowd. It, however, ventures into a terrain that is far removed. The London School of Economics dropout who makes peace with the demons of his mind and harnesses them to wreak havoc on the world obviously does not evoke any sympathy.
Shahid sparked in the audience outrage at the fate that befell its human rights lawyer-protagonist who took up cudgels on behalf of innocents implicated in terrorism cases. Aligarh, similarly, elicited deep sympathy for a sensitive university professor victimized by a conservative, insensitive establishment for his sexual orientation. Mehta delved deep into the minds of both men. In contrast, in Omerta - the title is an Italian word denoting the 'code of silence' that mobsters are sworn to - he can only offer glimpses of the outer world of Omar.
The bafflement that the audience might feel is given voice to by Omar's father Saeed Sheikh (Delhi theatre guru Keval Arora), who has no inkling why his son has gone astray. "I've decided to go to Bosnia," Omar tells his father, presenting the statement as a fait accompli. The old man pleads with him to complete his LSE course but to no avail. "I am going to help my people," Omar insists.
When Pakistan's ISI finds Omar a trophy wife on his return to Karachi from an Indian prison, his exasperated father says: "I hope your wife and children will make you see sense. Your abba (dad) has given up."
Running a little over an hour and a half, the film hits the ground running and dives straight into Omar's covert arrival in Delhi, where he uses his wiles to lure three young British men and an older American woman into captivity. His mission is busted by the police. He ends up behind bars.
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Five years on, Omar is one of three terrorists freed in exchange for the hostages on Indian Airlines flight IC-814 hijacked from Kathmandu to Kandahar. His depredations continue and his involvement is suggested in the 9/11 terror attack. But it is the kidnapping and brutal killing of Daniel Pearl, Wall Street Journal correspondent investigating ISI's links with terror outfits in Pakistan, which catapults him into the international spotlight.