DIRECTED BY: Bassam Tariq
STARRING: Riz Ahmed, Alyy Khan, Sudha Bhuchar, Nabhaan Rizwan, Anjana Vasan, Aiysha Hart, Hussain Manawer, Kiran Sonia Sawar and Jeff Mirza
British Pakistani rapper Zed is a rising star on the cusp of his first world tour. But, struck down by an illness that threatens to derail his big break, he’s forced to confront his past, his family, and the uncertainty of his legacy.
Mogul Mowgli is a drama directed by Bassam Tariq, who co-wrote the screenplay with lead star Riz Ahmed. The film focuses on Zaheer, a British-Pakistani rapper that goes by the name Zed and currently resides in New York and is making the next step towards the big time when he’s offered the position to support another artist during a world tour. His girlfriend suggests that before the tour starts, he should return home to see his family, who he hasn’t seen in two years. As tensions rise upon his return and seeing his family, particularly his mother and father, he is taking to hospital and learns that he has an autoimmune disease affecting his muscles that puts his dream in jeopardy.
From the films opening frame till its last, we go through the journey of not just Zed/Zaheer but Riz Ahmed as well in Mogul Mowgli, with the film coming across almost as semi-autobiographical, especially considering he co-wrote the screenplay with Tariq. We’re introduced to Zed during one of his sets in New York, the crowd lapping it up, and while he seems to be getting what he’s been striving for something just feels off. The audience can’t place it and really Zed can’t either as he returns home to Wembley, and he just feels out of place when he’s there surrounded by family, with one family member basically accusing him of selling out by changing his name to be more suitable for Western audiences, though Zed retorts that he’s advancing the culture forward in this genre so that others can follow. But the path he’s making he may not like the results of, as we see a rival rapper RPG on a similar rise to recognition like him, though his music focuses more on the materialistic side of things rather than being poetically lyrical minded. Once Zed gets diagnosed with the auto-immune disease whoever is when he goes on the journey of trying to discover his identity.
What takes place then is an interesting experimental drama by Tariq, with Zed having hallucinations and dreams involving Toba Tek Singh, a spiritual entity that represents his own heritage he’s trying to make peace with, as well as pass on the inherited trauma that his father experienced during the British partition of India and Pakistan. It’s in these sequences involving Toba Tek Singh that some viewers might feel slightly confused by or not care for, but the screenplay does handle the issue of identity and struggling to figure where you don’t belong very effectively, though once Zed is diagnosed one could say it’s a tad bit predictable in how it plays out. Despite that the film rests entirely on the shoulders of Riz Ahmed who gives a fantastic performance as Zaheer, bringing an emotional vulnerability that had me riveted and the scene involving him contacting his ex-girlfriend Bina was equal parts comedic and genuinely sad. Unfortunately the rest of the cast feels slightly undercooked with their characters, though their performances across the board are great, particularly Alyy Khan as Zaheer’s father.
For his directorial feature debut, Bassam Tariq impresses in merging the experimental ideas with the drama and Riz Ahmed gives a commanding, and arguably his best, performance to date in Mogul Mowgli.