The closing film at the Mumbai Film Festival this year was truly a special treat as the audiences were privy to the uncut and uncensored version of Hansal Mehta’s latest terrorism flick Omerta. Starring Rajkummar Rao as the British terrorist of Pakistani descent Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the biopic of this dreadful Al-Qaeda militant is also Mehta’s shortest film.
The writer-director was accompanied by his lead actor Rajkummar and other crew members at the Q&A session after the screening of the film, which was moderated by Newton’s director Amit Masurkar. “This character is with me since 2005 and I made all my other films hoping that this film will happen along the way. But I think it was waiting for Raj,” Hansal Mehta recounted.
When asked about why a film on Omar Sheikh, the filmmaker replied, “This film is like a companion piece to Shahid. I wanted people to see the opposite side of Shahid’s journey. What is a radical mind like? Both Shahid and Omar were in Tihar jail together and both of them chose different paths. Omar, who was more privileged, became this monster whereas Shahid chose humanity to lead his life. Shahid was killed and Omar is still alive in Pakistan’s Karachi prison. That’s the irony of the world we are living in.” An alumnus of the London School of Economics, Omar lived in London before taking the path of jihad. He is known for the kidnapping and beheading of American-Israeli journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. He has been suspected to have links with the 9/11 attacks and was also the hoax caller responsible for creating a war like situation between India and Pakistan after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
For Rajkummar, it’s been a dark and disturbing process to embody the character of Omar. “As an actor, I had to be in a certain frame of mind. It was a dark world but I wanted to taste that darkness. I enjoy this process of acting,” the actor said.
Rajkummar not only read books on the history of terrorism and roamed around Omar’s house in London but also watched a lot of hate speeches as a part of his preparation for the role.
“Subconsciously I was trying to live in that space and there were some really bad thoughts crossing my mind. Whenever I would watch news of some terrorist activity, the first thought I would have is ‘well done’. And the next moment I would correct myself that no, it’s not well done. So mentally, I have been closest to Omar as compared to all the other characters I have played so far,” he revealed.
Rajkummar even went on to narrate how he unknowingly rubbed off some of Omar’s darkness on his girlfriend and actress Patralekha too. “She came to see me when we were shooting in Delhi. She thought she would stay for three days as Delhi is a lovely place and we would shop, etc. But she left the next day saying, ‘There is something weird about you and I don’t want to be around this energy. So I will see you in Mumbai once you are done with this film’,” he recalled.
The title of the film is taken from the Italian word ‘omertà’, meaning a code of silence about criminal activity generally practised by the mafia, and the tagline says, ‘a brief history of terrorism’. “The film is an account of terrorism that we have faced over the last two decades. As much as we have tried to stay true to the events, a lot of it is also freely imagined. The idea is to reflect upon the system we are breeding that is prompting young educated men like Omar to take the path of terror,” the director concluded.