Published in


Omerta Review: A film that reminds us of the brilliance that Rajkumar Rao is.

Rachit Raj

There is something special about a director returning to collaborate with a trusted actor they have worked with, in the past. The style of storytelling becomes more adventurous and the scope for the actor to shine grows exponentially, if the director trusts the actor to raise their game as and when the script demands.

In Omerta, which landed on Zee5 after a long wait, this game of trying to get the best out of one’s actor reaches a new, emphatic level. Hansal Mehta, who has previously directed Rajkumar Rao thrice — Shahid, Citylights, and Aligarh — challenges him here with a role that demands Rao to sink his teeth deep and find rationality in a character so despicable, and unforgivable that as an audience the normalcy of hate becomes a strain to watch.

The film documents the journey of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the terrorist who first featured in Mehta’s Shahid as an inmate Shahid (Rao) briefly interacts with, in prison. Mehta presents the story as a docu-drama, pushing footages from life in the middle, often showing the audience a good look at the real Omar Sheikh, before returning back to the world where Rao is playing the part.

This singularly courageous treatment makes Rao’s act of convincing the audience of his act incredibly tough. Thankfully, he comes through and delivers one of his best performances in this incredibly fascinating movie about an antagonist as he goes from one mission to another. Mehta trusts his actor to maintain the believability of Omar across decades, while Rao gives in to a movie that jumps non-linearly at will, often a little too ambitiously.

A quick understanding of the film reveals the conflict writers Mukul Dev and Hansal Mehta must have encountered with this film. Omar cannot be humanized. To do that puts the film at risk of siding with him. Yet, it has to give a sufficiently detailed account of his life that makes us see more than what those media images and a Google search reveals about his life and actions.

There are places when the narrative seems like a forced highlight of his life, jumping from one important event to another, never pausing too long for a personal moment that occurred away from the recorded history of the man. But it makes sense when you see the dilemma at hand. Omar cannot be turned into a sympathetic figure, even when the narrative hinges around his journey. The filmmaker cannot justify the crimes he has committed, and yet a film on him without an understanding of his psychology is futile.

This is probably why the film adapts a non-linear narrative. We meet Omar as a conditioned terrorist first, before going back in time and seeing him as a younger man, affected by the crimes being committed against Muslims. The film carefully informs us of where he is coming from, without ever giving us the time to internalize his conflict to fruition.

This is where Rao’s eyes come into play. When the writing does not support him, his eyes take the charge. From being a vulnerable young man to a driven terrorist pretending to be a likable friend to foreigners, Rao delivers a top-notch performance that makes Omar real, menacing and ruthless, with little action on the screen.

In one of the most hard-hitting scenes in the movie, Omar butchers an American journalist who has already been shot dead. Omar is not content by just killing, he needs blood. His thirst for American blood in his hands drives him into a barbaric killer. The camera is fixed on Omar, the butchering conveyed through sound. Once it is done, Omar simply breaths and wipes the blood off his spectacles. There is no rage or reverence on his face, just a dry, chilling nonchalance.

Omerta is a compelling film about a man who charmed his way into committing some gruesome crime. It is a film that needs to be seen to understand the ease with which an intelligent mind can be misguided into a force of criminal activities. It is a story of a terrorist, who thinks he is the rightful protagonist of his story. But finally, beyond anything else, Omerta is a film that reminds us of the brilliance that Rajkumar Rao is. He is a spectacular force, and here, he gives a performance that speaks in silence more than words. There is something about that calm, that unflinching smile as he is pushed in the police van, that remains with you long after the film ends. This is what happens when a director trusts his actor to deliver the goods, and the actor believes in the director’s vision, never missing the pulse of the plot that he wants to give life to.

Streaming on Zee5.



Alternate Take presents a new pitstop for fresh , unbiased and hopefully perceptive thoughts on cinema. We are trying to create and build a community of critics , and sustain a exchange and dialogue between established, prominent critics and aspiring young critics.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Alternate Take

A space for reviews, retrospectives, analyses, interviews around all things cinema, standing left of the field.