Rajkummar Rao in a still from Omerta
Bollywood has always been very clear about its male characters: the hero, the hero's friend, the heroine's brother, the rich dad, and then the villain. While everything in between has been open to various interpretations, the hero and his foil, the villain, have largely remained distinct.
The hero has to beat the villain to a pulp in the end. If not, is it even a Hindi film? But then, sometimes, a mutant strand does appear. The anti-hero. And suddenly we don't know whether to cheer for him or hope to see him bleed to death.
The list is long for the anti-hero — from Sanjay Dutt's Khalnayak to Shah Rukh Khan's Baazigar, Darr and Anjaam (there are plenty more: Amitabh Bachchan in Deewar, Sunil Dutt in Mother India, Hrithik Roshan in Dhoom 2, but these were far milder and more like a victims of circumstances) — yet for some reason, Bollywood has steered clear of producing such evil-minded protagonists. Enter Rajkummar Rao's Omerta.
Omerta goes where cinema hasn't gone in a long time and begs the question: Does the bad guy even deserve a narrative? If you ask Arjun Rampal aka Daddy or Emraan Hashmi aka Azhar, they will tell you he does. But the problem is Omar Saeed Sheikh is nothing like Mohammed Azharuddin, the tainted cricketer, or Arun Gawli, who's innocent-until-proven-guilty. Omar is hardcore, he is a jihadi, he is a terrorist.
Hansal Mehta, the director of Omerta, wants to "leave the viewer with a sense of awe, disgust, hate, surprise and let them examine the ramifications of these events on their lives today". Well, he's done it alright. He makes blood, bomb blasts and third-degree police interrogation look sleek with an overall blanket of terror in the 1.49-odd-minute trailer. Add to that Rajkummar's cold, beady eyes, and you can almost sense fear entering your body through the computer screens (Aside: I only wish his diction had traces of Urdu, for a fundamentalist, whatever religion he may be, will hold on to their roots, almost as obssessively as some hold on to a certain colour). But hold on a second, are we, unwittingly glorifying someone who is responsible for 9/11? What's next? A biopic on Ajmal Kasab?
This debate isn't new. When Rolling Stone put accused Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's face on the cover, way back in 2013, they were called names you'd never imagine. Yet, they went on with it, kept the debate alive, and it now stands as one of the most controversial magazine covers in history.
Omerta has already premiered to excellent reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival 2017 followed by the Busan International Film Festival and a very successful screening of the Closing film at the Mumbai Film Festival 2017. So clearly, the thinking audience gives it a nod. But is the bhai-fied janta — so used to seeing Salman Khan thrash baddies in slow motion as his shirt rips off and bodies fly around him with the same centripetal force as his bracelet currently rotating around his wrist — ready for this grey area?