Gunjal: A Gripping Yet Perplexing Crime Thriller Rooted in Iqbal Masih’s Courage! FUCHSIA Reviews

  • Gunjal
  • January 28, 2024

Did Gunjal do justice to the journey of Iqbal Masih? Did it help set standards for the crime-thriller genre in Pakistan? Read our review to know more!

Gunjal: A Gripping Crime Thriller Inspired By Child Labour Activist Iqbal Masih! A FUCHSIA Review

A gripping crime-thriller inspired by true events, Gunjal is directed by Shoaib Sultan and produced by Nighat Akbar Shah, from Adur Productions and Eveready Pictures.

The movie follows the true story of journalist Shahbaz Bhatti, played by the acclaimed Ahmed Ali Akbar. Bhatti embarks on a treacherous journey to uncover the truth behind the murder of child activist Irfan Masih, a brave soul who fought relentlessly against the scourge of child labour in 1990s Pakistan. The film thrusts us into a world rife with hidden secrets, intricate conspiracies, and half-revealed truths. As Bhatti navigates through this complex web of intrigue, viewers are promised a relentless pursuit of justice.

The cast of Gunjal boasts a line-up of exceptional talent, contributing to the film’s allure. Alongside Ahmed Ali Akbar, the movie features stellar performances by Resham, Amna Ilyas, Syed Muhammad Ali, Sarmed Aftab Jadraan, Razia Malik, Sardar Nabeel, Ali Aftab Saeed, Arham Khan, Ebtisam Mustafa, Habiba Sufyan, Ahsen Murad, Munir Khan, Usman Zia, and Ahmed Ali Butt.

The film makes it clear from the beginning that, although it’s a fictionalized account, it is entirely based on Iqbal Masih. An investigative journalism crime thriller with Resham making a comeback and featuring a story that’s horror still haunts us to date.

An Aesthetic Opening

Based on the true events of 1995, the movie opens with aesthetic, slow-paced shots. We see Shahbaz Bhatti beginning to unravel the web surrounding Irfan Masih’s (Iqbal Masih’s) murder.

The movie also addresses the issue of our weak legal systems, denying justice to Irfan Masih and his family. The topic is heavy and hard-hitting, but viewers will find moments of relief through some light-heartedness.

The movie follows the path to discover whether Irfan Masih’s murder was truly an accident or a brutal crime. It attempts to immerse us in the misery and agony of Irfan Masih’s family as they are denied justice. The grief-stricken journey is all engulfing, the performances, captivating, and the cinematography seizes audiences in a hypnotic grip throughout the film run time.

Shoaib Sultan’s Crisp Direction

The movie interestingly portrayed two parallel scenes. One seemingly represented the truth, while the other, we assume, portrayed a fictional figment of what the facts. Yet, the screenplay was devoid of monotony. The scenes are logically linked, built upon piece by piece, keeping our attention intact, not once allowing viewer attention to linger. It’s safe to say, Shoaib Sultan’s direction has aided the movie in raising the bar for cinematic crime-thriller storytelling in Pakistan.

Stellar Performances

There are plenty of nail-biting scenes that leave audiences on the edge of their seat without fully revealing everything, keeping the onlooker fully invested as they seamlessly transition to the next scene. The child stars are exceptionally talented, as was evident in their seamless performances, delivering their punchlines that didn’t miss a beat.

Ahmed Ali Akbar

Ahmed Ali Akbar smoothly essayed the journey of Shahbaz Bhatti, depicting the shrewd, shortcut-taking journalist. Through the course of events in his life, he undergoes a transformation from a slacking reporter to one who strives to uncover the truth and learn along the way. Ahmed Ali Akbar excelled in portraying the complexity of human emotions with nuanced skill and mastery.

While we appreciate Ahmed Ali Akbar’s impactful portrayal, it is noteworthy how the writers and director skilfully and intricately evoked the complexity and internal questioning of Shahbaz Bhatti, the crime journalist who also played a significant role in the character’s impact and ability to carry the plot.


Resham plays Madam Sarwat, the owner of ‘Nayi Subha,’ her ancestral newspaper. She is shown to be strong yet graceful, dipping her toes into the systemic hypocrisy. Resham’s screen presence is undeniable, yet one was left feeling slightly underwhelmed, considering her role and her stature, which had much more potential left to be explored!

Syed Muhammad Ali

Syed Muhammad Ali as Irfan Masih truly engulfed us with his performance as young Iqbal Masih. He did justice to the character while taking us along the ambitious yet painstaking journey of standing up for a cause bigger than most. His performance was honed to perfection, and thoroughly natural!

Amna Ilyas

Amna Ilyas is introduced as a zealous activist, striving for justice for children bonded in labor. She moves us as Mehar with her sharp debates and dialogues against the horrors of child labor. In one particular scene, it was interesting to watch how she switched from English to Punjabi in a split second. Amna Ilyas aced her dialogues and stirring debates, yet a degree of emotion was somehow lost in transition. She was stoic throughout but didn’t once sway out of character. Amna’s role was pivotal and heart-warming as the one who took Irfan Masih under her wings as Mehar Baji.

Ahmed Ali Butt

Ahmed Ali Butt is seen in a different role, unlike his usual jolly or comic characters, he essays here, that of an antagonist, a villain… or so we thought! As the head of Habib Enterprises and an entrant into politics, he is not afraid to get his hands dirty.

Arham Khan plays Iqbal, a young boy who does odd jobs around the living quarters of Shahbaz Bhatti. He eventually forces Shahbaz to examine his own role in child labor in Pakistan. Arham Khan’s splendid performance is full of heart-tugging innocence, hitting the right punchlines, and holding up a mirror to audiences as well!

Covering The Real Events & Reminding Us Of What’s Important, Symbolically

Gunjal, the movie also introduces Irfan Masih to those who don’t know his story and journey – a child with mighty dreams, ambitions, and a fight bigger than himself, depicting how he was brutally murdered. His harsh reality is tenderly yet poignantly portrayed. Did you know Christians cannot become presidents of our nation, according to the laws of our Pakistan?

A scene that stood out? The debate scene was cleverly executed and well-researched, featuring coherent conversations. The points and topics addressed are ones yet to be explored in our society, specially through Films and Art. The movie also briefly covered the historic passing of the Bonded Labour Act 1992, providing a great history recap for many and aligning with the beginning of Irfan Masih’s activism. Raw, brave, and soul-stirring, Gunjal, the movie also subtly and symbolically reminded on multiple occasions, how, as a society, we knowingly continue to practice child labor. While we have often heard about underprivileged children wanting to go to school, in this instance, the movie truly picturized and made us feel their plight. It served as a reminder of the formidable courage of Iqbal Masih and how brave he really was.

While we appreciated the effort and tact in presenting two different perspectives, we hoped for a more lucid picture of the events that transpired. As the movie neared its conclusion, Iqbal’s death was shrouded in mystery onscreen, just as in real life. Was it the carpet mafia or the NGO? Who was likely to be guilty of Irfan Masih’s murder? Was it the one, or both?

It would be safe to say, that if labor laws had been amended enough to prevent a child from ever being shackled in chains and made to work in bondage, Iqbal Masih would not have died in vain. And for all of us watching, this is a message from the movie that the makes aimed to ring loud and clear – Iqbal was a warrior and let that never be forgotten, do not let his death be yet another drop of blood spilt in a sea of senseless loss of innocent lives, he died so that many more could live, and a gross wrong could be righted.

For more on the international steps taken after Iqbal’s death and controversies surrounding the RUGMARK campaign, click here.

A Few Inconsistencies

However, despite a well-paced storytelling, there were a few inconsistencies; the vintage cars and wardrobe appeared slightly more dated than the late 90s. Another apparent inconsistency was Ahmed Ali Akbar’s complexion; in some places, it was darker, and in others, it was noticeably lighter.

One specific scene hinted at the possibility that the bonded child laborers in the carpet weaving factory where Iqbal Masih worked were all happy and content. Perhaps that was a bit delusional?

The movie must have lost audiences at that point, serving as the biggest injustice to the entire cause.

The screenplay and runtime could have been shorter, as towards the end, the narrative seemed to lose pace. Additionally, Irfan Masih’s (in real life, Iqbal Masih) journey was portrayed as more subtle than the graver, true life events that unfolded in his life. “At the carpet maker’s, Iqbal was chained to a loom and made to work as much as 14 hours a day. He was fed little and beaten more than other children because of his attempts at escaping and refusal to work. These conditions stunted his growth; he had the height and weight of a 6-year-old when he was 12.”

Our Verdict

So if one has pre-determined, distinct views, has read up extensively on the case, certain instances might seem perplexing and problematic, but if this movie will serve a first time watch when viewers learn of Iqbal Masih’s painful journey, the subsequent emotions might be accompanied by a degree of confusion and underwhelming injustice to the core theme.

However, this is not to take away from the fact that Gunjal is a sure shot watch, acing the crime thriller genre in Pakistani movies. The cinematography is splendid, accompanied by logical storytelling, crisp direction, aesthetic frames and a truly gripping screenplay. Staying true to the essence of a crime thriller, it keeps viewers guessing right till the end! Do give it a watch, you might just be glad to see how Pakistani cinema is growing and finessing the crime-thriller genre.




Talk to us

We'd love to hear
from you

Drop us a line using the form, and we'll get back to you as soon as possible

Follow Us