VOD film review: Mogul Mowgli
James R | On 06, Nov 2020
Director: Bassam Tariq
Cast: Riz Ahmed
You can count the number of films that make you cry with a bathroom scene on a single finger. That’s the kind of emotional intensity you can expect from Mogul Mowgli, a film that tackles questions of identity, culture and community with its heart on its sleeve and its sleeve confidently hold a microphone.
Riz Ahmed is remarkable as Zed, a British-Pakistani rapper who is about to break America with a trailblazing tour. On stage, he’s a dazzling wonder, lining up rhyming lyrics about the political and personal battleground he faces every day, with wit, eloquence and anger – it’s no coincidence that the tracks can be found on Riz’s latest album. But while we already know Riz can cut it on stage, it’s the man behind those performances that Mogul Mowgli is interested in – we spend time with him as he goes home to his London family (they call him by his real name, Zaheer).
While there, he’s diagnosed with a degenerative condition that threatens his ability to pursue his career. And so he begins asking who he is. Is he defined by his upbringing? By his professional success that prompts some to accuse him selling out? One of the most scathing blows to his ego – his very sense of self – is the thought of a rival rapper performing one of his new songs, appropriating his voice and turning it into their own.
Alongside the vibrant musical sequences and candid domestic drama, tinged with parental disapproval, are vivid hallucinatory passages, which see Zed visited by Toba Tek Singh, a mysterious man whose name brings into the frame a key city impacted by the 1947 Partition and a 1955 short story about the trauma that division caused. Those fantastical flourishes tie Zed’s present day story with the roots of his father, Bashir (Alyy Khan), and seeing the two forge a path towards reconciliation and understanding is hugely moving.
Director Bassam Tariq, who impressed with the highly personal documentary Ghosts of Sugar Land (available on Netflix), brings that same knack for confronting existential enigmas with a raw honesty. The result is an evocative, layered, thoughtful drama that cements both Bassam and Ahmed as vital voices in filmmaking.