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Flawed but dynamic independent cinema at its most hypnotic, Mogul Mowgli follows a talented British-Pakistani rapper Zed (Riz Ahmed) is based in New York and is on the verge of huge career success as he prepares to go on a life-changing world tour.
Heading back to the London to set the tour in motion he also pays a visit to his family members, who still refer to him as by his birth name Zaheer and who feel he carries contempt for his background as he tries to forge his own path, particularly from his father Bashir (Alyy Khan).
However, Zed’s plans are turned completely upside down as he begins to experience troubling symptoms of weakness and pains that lead to a devastating diagnosis that changes his life forever.
Throughout this vicious new health battle, Zed begins experiencing visions of his father’s past after the partition of India and Pakistan, along with visitations from a semi-mythological figure.
Can Zed reconcile his past, his father’s and their shared futures or will he succumb to complete despair?
Riz Ahmed plays talented political rapper Zed in Mogul Mowgli
(Image: Pulse Films / BBC)
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Mixing a gritty realism with dreamlike imagery, director Bassam Tariq delivers a fascinating study of a struggling artist, anchored by a simultaneously fiery but also understated performance from Ahmed – who brings his flare as a political rap star to the Zed’s own expression.
Beginning with a charged performance in the US, we see Zed is facing a startling level of success that sees him further distanced from his Pakistani identity.
Thrust back into his family life and the discomfort there, we see Zed struggle to reconcile these dual identities, which is only further strained by the gutting medical drama the film shifts into next.
Alyy Khan plays Zed's father, Bashir
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This cruel twist of fate is dealt further salt in the wound as Zed witnesses the less politically-minded and more vulgar rapper RPG (1917’s Nabhaan Rizwan) find his own success, despite his earnest love of and being inspired by Zed’s work. In fact, RPG’s own catchy single proves to be one of the film's more memorable moments.
However, it is the powerful relationship between Zed and his father that gives the film its most satisfying and emotive thread to proceedings, as the rapper has to reconcile his desires with the genetic trauma of his parents.
Can Zed learn to live with his condition and reconcile his dual identities?
(Image: Pulse Films / BBC)
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While the film may overindulge on the dream sequences and pseudo-fantasy despite finding its true gravity in the more naturalistic filmmaking from documentary veteran Tariq, there is an authenticity and heart not often seen in a character study of this type.
Above all else, the film offers an opportunity for Riz Ahmed to prove his multiple talents and provide a well-drawn character worthy of his charisma and nerve.
Mogul Mowgli is an affecting piece of cinema and an electric performance from star/co-writer Riz Ahmed proves he is one of Britain’s finest talents.
Mogul Mowgli is showing as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2020 and is released in the UK on October 30, 2020.
What has been your favourite performance from Riz Ahmed? Let us know in the comments below.