Javed Iqbal

Based on the true story of the arrest and interrogation of Pakistani serial killer, Javed Iqbal, this film follows the growing horror as his crimes are uncovered. Iqbal raped and murdered a hundred children, dismembering their bodies and dissolving them in acid, so there wasn’t even remains to return to the families or to identify them.

I was really interested to see a film on Iqbal from Pakistan itself. The film touches on the implications of larger social issues, such as the lack of attention and prosecution given to child sexual abuse, and unwillingness to investigate those in positions of power who might be involved. Those issues are universal, as we’ve seen with things like Operation Yewtree here, but the film explores them within a Pakistani context, with the struggle to address intimate sexual crimes openly, and corruption hampering investigation.

Iqbal handed himself in. He wasn’t under investigation, he wasn’t on the police’s radar, no one knew who he was. Were it not for his own confession that he killed 100 children and directing the police to remains in his home, we would never have known about his crimes. What attempts have been made to identify his victims after the fact have, of course, been hampered by his destruction of any bodies. Many people criticised police handling of the case, asking why a predator was able to kill so many children without them even realising. Iqbal also named accomplices who lured children to his house, and many suspect he was killed in custody to deliberately silence him from naming other members of a paedophile ring, some of whom were in positions of power.

The film keeps its focus tight, concentrating a hub of characters in the police station where Iqbal is being held. The place is run by a badass police captain, who is smart, driven and genuinely wants to bring the guilty to justice. She has two sergeants, one an astute and educated graduate, one a rough-and-ready man of the streets. Beneath them are a handful of ordinary coppers, who at times provide a bit of comic relief with how out their depth they are dealing with this monster. You get the idea they signed up thinking it would a good job, indoors with no heavy lifting, and didn’t really consider the realms of human depravity they might meet with.

Opposite this tightknit crew is Iqbal, played by Yasir Hussain who gives a really solid performance as the titular monster. He is soon joined by a handful of accomplices, some themselves still only children, who he still manages to keep in thrall to him despite their incarceration.

Normally the tension in a crime movie comes from uncovering the suspect and their crimes, but in this film Iqbal appears and confesses within the film’s first few scenes. The tension is the mounting sense of horror at the possibility of just what may be the truth. At first Iqbal is dismissed as a madman, after all, who could kill a hundred kids undetected? It must be nonsense. Then when the evidence found at his home corroborates his statement, the characters struggle to make sense of how this could happen. It couldn’t possibly be so many surely? And how could he ever have accomplished this alone? Iqbal toys with interrogators, threatening to recant his confession and leave them with no evidence, delighting in detailing his atrocities, clearly hoping to get fame and attention by handing himself in. By the end, the officers go from unbelieving that Iqbal could do this alone, to hoping he could, because the implications of his words leaves them in a much more dark and dangerous world, one in which there are people still out there, harming children, doing god knows what to them, and getting away with it every single day.

Despite being a low-budget independent film, it takes a crack at telling a story that is a grave social warning, about the blind spots left by power and the secrecy and stigma surrounding sexual violence.