First Look Review: Jungleland (2019)

Jungleland - Poster

Here’s something exciting for this blog, an exclusive review of Waheed Iqbal’s debut film Jungleland, a cinematic portrayal of the modern Birmingham underworld. In the vein of Drive or Taxi Driver, this film scratches at the bloody surface of a world that does not wish to be known.

The lights of the city are sharp against the pitch black night sky as Tanha (Waheed Iqbal) stalks the streets of Digbeth in a sleek grey car, ferrying various sex workers to and from jobs; amid an ongoing cricket match fixing scandal, he has five days until the next game to repay £16,000 or face the consequences.

Still 8
Waheed Iqbal as Tanha

There is an unrelenting sense of despair that runs throughout Jungleland, with the exception of one sequence the entire film takes place in the back streets of Digbeth at night, in corners and car parks just out of sight of the gentrified pubs and restaurants – a piece of the world the city would rather forget. Characters hide from the rest of the world – inhabiting street corners and the back rooms of rundown pool halls negotiating for their lives.

In one unexpectedly tender scene, Tanha and Bonny (Hannah-Lee Osborn) – a sex worker he regularly drives, and with whom there is the possibility of a deeper relationship – talk with an unsettling frankness about their future together. Tanha offers the possibility of marriage, to which Osborn replies “where would we go?”. There is no way out from the lives they have found themselves in – when Tanha is offered a way out of his debt by Uncle Z (Haqi Ali), whose unstated power seeps out of every pore in the uncomfortably close-up cinematography, he simply replies “you’re just a bigger problem with a smile.” Ali plays the classic genre figure of the benevolent yet violent boss, who gently applies eye solution while threatening your life, subtly but without compromise.

Jungleland is constantly on the move, elliptical scene transitions combined with a pulsating, hypnotic soundtrack by that contributes to the film’s urgency. The sound mixing is brilliant, as pool balls knock together like bullet shots and the sirens and heartbeat of the city fills the rare moments of silence.

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Hannah-Lee Osborn as Bonny

Throughout the viewers are reminded of Tanha’s predicament through title cards that dominate the screen switching between English and Urdu, but are helpless to watch as he does nothing significant to escape the escalating situation. These titles occasionally are slightly jarring to the overall fluidity, but give Jungleland a distinct aesthetic – a vibrant, red tinted attack of film that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until the final moments.

The inevitability of the narrative is all but plotted from the start, but there are glimmers of hope throughout. Iqbal and Osborn are an oddly tender, yet practically minded couple on the verge of change in a world that demands unflinching loyalty. Tanha’s young daughter, unwavering in her love of him as his violent tendancies break their way into her young life, is one of the few people who demand nothing from Tanha, but she is the one person he can only disappoint.

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Iqbal as Tanha
Jungleland is a wonderfully shot and exciting drama from a cast and crew of emerging and talented British filmmakers, and a refreshing and interesting spin on the crime genre.


  • Director & Writer- Waheed Iqbal
  • Producers – Waheed Iqbal, Hannah-Lee Osborn, Mike Hambi
  • Assistant Camera – Mos Heer Ayad
  • Second Assistant Camera – Wajahat Hussain
  • Camera Operator – Arman Hussein
  • Tanha – Waheed Iqbal
  • Bonny – Hannah-Lee Osborn
  • Tanha’s Ex – Magdalena Ziembla
  • Jam – Faraz Beg
  • Piy – Nav Iqbal
  • Uncle Z – Haqi Ali
  • Priest – Sarah J Lewis
  • Bonny’s Father – Kerry Frater
  • Bookie – Shamus Mahmood
  • Daldal – Aadam Beg
  • Ex’s Daughter – Gabriella Ziembla
  • Rude Prostitute – Kelsi Riley
  • Bulgarian Prostitute – Dayana Olegova
  • Mute Prostitute – Tequila Rose
  • Client – Ryan Green
  • Client – Richard Broomhall
  • Client – Steve Shinners
  • Client – Glen Hannah

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