In the December of 1999, letters containing the chilling confessions of the now infamous Pakistani serial killer and pederast Javed Iqbal were sent to both the Lahore police force and the chief news editor of the city’s regional newspaper. The letter contained a graphic, systematic and remorseless account of Iqbal’s murder and abuse of 100 runaway boys, in which he hauntingly describes how he dismembered his victims and disposed of their corpses utilising vats of hydrochloric acid. The Untold Story of a Serial Killer provides a fictional depiction of Iqbal’s investigation whilst he was held under police custody, an investigation that significantly raised more questions than answers.

Despite its apparent low budget, director Abu Aleeha manages to artfully create scenes that adhere to the film’s themes of dread and suspense. This can be perceived most notably during the sequence in which the Lahore police discover the horrific remains of Iqbal’s dissolved victims. Accompanied by a slightly generic but ultimately effective score, the scene is impressively well-paced, neither rushing too quickly to the scene’s gruesome conclusion nor lingering too long and resulting in the suspense being ruined. Aleeha’s usage of a first-person perspective throughout the scene should also be credited as it upholds the film’s central and paramount tonality, to be elusive and mysterious, whilst leading to further viewer immersion.

Javed Iqbal

Javed Iqbal’s unsettling atmosphere is further exemplified through Aleeha’s use of lighting, and the claustrophobic environments in which events occur. Watching Yasir Hussain, whose convincing performance of the deranged Javed Iqbal is a frightening yet impressive highlight of the film, pacing around his minuscule, dimly-lit cell, contributing emphatically to the dingy, confined tones of the films many interrogation scenes.

With the majority cast providing solid yet largely unmemorable performances, Yasir Hussain’s portrayal of Javed Iqbal stands out emphatically. Delivering his monologues with a snarky yet ominous undertone, Hussain provides a chilling depiction of a serial killer. His ability to drastically change his emotions from seemingly calm and collected to that of despair and anger substantially benefits the interrogation scenes, most of which would likely fall flat without his influence – while credit must also go to co-star Ayesha Omar, who plays the officer (Zara) handling the case.

Whilst praising the film’s immersive qualities up until this point, there are certainly some scenes which diminish this involving production. The film’s frequent and long-winded torture scenes are unfortunately poorly acted, with comically unrealistic sound effects being a staple of their tediousness. These scenes are plagued by an obvious lack of realism, which undermines some of the other more visceral sequences.

Javed Iqbal

However, the central critique of The Untold Story of a Serial Killer, is that some of the scenes feel largely unnecessary and irrelevant, with the opening scene of the film being a stand-out in that regard. The scene consists of Zara rebuking and detaining a pervert who harasses her on the street. This scene is clearly included to indicate that Zara is both a brave and skilled feminist protagonist, but these are qualities that she exudes throughout the entirety of plot, in an already admirable, more subtle way, making this scene completely redundant. The opening sequence is not the only culprit guilty of failing to contribute to the films central plot, with the previously mentioned torture scenes and those regarding the mother with the lost son feeling more like uninteresting padding than central plot components.

Javed Iqbal was scheduled to be released in theatres on in January of this year, but due to its sensitive premise and being based on true events, it was banned by the Punjab government before its release, though given the courageous elements in bringing this story to life, and how affecting this tale is, it’s worth pursuing, wherever it may be allowed to air.

By Joshua Benguigui

Javed Iqbal: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer was the opening film at the ongoing UK Asian Film Festival