Like many Pakistanis I was eagerly awaiting the release of the film, Verna. The third in the series directed by the famed Shoaib Mansoor, the controversy surrounding its clearance from the Censor Board added to the excitement.Everyone knew that it dealt with the topic of rape, a topic often ignored in Pakistan, but it was the implication of politicians in the affair, in fact the son of a fictional governor of the Punjab, which had apparently riled the Censor Boards. In any case, after a flurry of activity, the film was finally released — without any cuts, to a captive audience. Sadly, that captive audience ran for freedom in the first few minutes of the film. The movie derailed so quickly that even the superb acting of Mahira Khan could not save a convoluted story line, bizarre twists and turns, and copious overacting by her co-stars. Since I do not aim to write a review of the film, I will not delve into the particulars of the movie, but pick up of a couple of important strands.Most importantly, the film tackled the issue of rape. This is its singular achievement. Rape is something which is never publically discussed in Pakistan. In addition to societal taboos, the largesse of General Zia in the form of the Hudood Ordinances, made rape a fault of the victim. Hence, even though the various women’s rights bills passed under the last Peoples Party government did water down provisions of Hudood, the assumption that somehow the victim is to blame has not ended. In fact, where the spate of rapes in Delhi led to a public outcry in India and several measures were taken, civil society in Pakistan largely keeps mum when it comes to rape.Yes, a few activists make some noise, but by and large, we all keep sleeping. So kudos to the film for making it a ‘real’ issue, which needs to be discussed and addressed. Every year thousands of women get raped in Pakistan, and unless they are provided justice, treatment and help, we will never be able to claim the status of a civilised society. Verna should have given rape victims the strength to not feel ashamed or embarrassed and to report the crime; it should have taught family members to support rape victims and help them in their quest for justice; it should have jolted the government to create mechanisms so that rape victims are supported and perpetrators held accountable. However, it ended up only highlighting the issue and then promoted entrapment, lies, and vigilante justiceDespite its boldness of discussing the issue of rape, the film provides an extremely flawed, dangerous and illegal, means for addressing the issue. Rather than bringing in the fact that the victim might have kept her clothes from which DNA could be collected, it shows that the victim ‘staged’ a rape, and that it was condoned not only by her family but also by her lawyer.In any country, a lawyer would most certainly be disbarred and her license cancelled for being party to such a charade. Bringing in the element of deceit, fraud and chicanery, does not show the victim in a good light, and undermines the whole process of justice and healing. Furthermore, the ultimate ‘solution’ in the film is not a conviction of the perpetrator but a kidnapping of the perpetrator where he is then choked and starved to death after being cemented in a wall. This harkening back to how the Emperor Akbar dealt with Anarkali, is simply an example of vigilante justice which clearly makes a mockery of all notions of justice and fair play. Taking law into your own hands is not justice, but a denouncement of it. Just as the perpetrator thought that he was a law unto himself and had to take ‘revenge’ on behalf of his father, the victim too decided to settle the issue on her own terms — critically blurring the line between them.Yes, Verna is a film and films are fiction and should be treated as such. But when films are also used as teaching moments, as moments to highlight a wrong in society, they should not promote notions contrary to a positive development of society. Verna should have given strength to rape victims not to feel ashamed or embarrassed and to report the crime; it should have taught family members to support rape victims and help them in their quest for justice; it should have jolted the government to create mechanisms so that rape victims are supported and perpetrators held accountable; and it should have led all of us to take rape, and any kind of sexual violence, seriously. However, it ended up only highlighting the issue and then promoted entrapment, lies, and vigilante justice. Verna was certainly a missed opportunity.The writer teaches at IT University Lahore and is the author of ‘A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55.’ He tweets at @BangashYKPublished in Daily Times, November 26th 2017.