REEL Review – Mogul Mowgli (2020)

Director: Bassam Tariq | 1h 30mins | Drama

British Pakistani Rapper, Zed (Riz Ahmed), is diagnosed with a chronic disease which conflicts with his upcoming World Tour as a support act.

“Legacy outlives love” is one of the many lines Zed, a young British/Pakistani rapper, murmurs in rhythm to himself throughout the film. This one comes as he’s lying next to his girlfriend in New York, ready to go home for a few weeks before he goes on tour. It feels like a set up for the films themes, but when Zed finally makes it home to see his parents you realise the film is much more about cultural identity, and the importance of embracing the representation.

Zed is conflicted with fever-dream imagery of childhood memories of his pushy Father, as well as a disguised figure who calls himself Toba Tek Singh. It feels like Zed feels guilty, rapping about his roots and their importance but forever being chased by the identity he has long spent forgetting. Returning home causes Zed to face these conflicts, being called a “Coconut” and being shamed by his cousin for under appreciating his Father’s sacrifice. This all collides in Zed’s psyche when he’s diagnosed with a chronic disease affecting his muscles.

Unable to walk and frustrated with the fact he may have to sacrifice his place on the tour, as well as giving up his own music to a rival rapper, Zed becomes stubborn and desperate for a quick recovery. But as his stubbornness and self-absorption take a hold his fragility comes out. This is where the talent of Riz Ahmed is key, being able to hold the street-tough image while also fearing the worst as his illness gets worse.

Riz Ahmed has always been an intriguing actor who makes interesting choices, but you can see just how much Mogul Mowgli means to him as an actor, producer and writer through his performance.

One scene sees Zed sitting in a fertility clinic, preparing to offload some sperm, when he rings his now ex-girlfriend for some support. Riz Ahmed is spectacular here, his fragility and vulnerability are on full show, while never impeding on the full-scope of the performance. Riz Ahmed has always been an intriguing actor who makes interesting choices, but you can see just how much Mogul Mowgli means to him as an actor, producer and writer through his performance.

The camera has a keen focus on the mentality of it’s characters, surgically framed on the eyes, feet and head of Zed as he struggles to focus his thoughts and overcome physical restraint. It’s beautifully shot in every scene, and even more so in Zed’s nightmare encounters. Bassam Tariq and Cinematographer Annika Summerson are unafraid to be daring in what they show, and for a director who has never made a narrative feature before, the film feels overwhelmingly sophisticated.

The film could have benefited from engaging in it’s UK Rap scene a little more, but it’s more about the personal journey of Zed’s British Pakistani heritage. It’s a film that’s multi-layered, not scared to openly discuss it’s themes rather than definitively answer them. Riz Ahmed gives yet another visceral performance, and despite building himself an impressive catalogue of roles already; this might be his best yet.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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