Mogul Mowgli review: Riz Ahmed on top form

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Bassam Tariq directs whilst Riz Ahmed, Anjana Vasan and Aiysha Hart leads the cast of the excellent Mogul Mowgli – and here’s our review of the film.

Riz Ahmed (Four Lions, Nightcrawler, The Night Of) puts in a scintillating turn in Pakistani-born American director Bassam Tariq’s compelling second feature. Mogul Mowgli has been a passion project for Ahmed; he co-wrote and co-produced this darkly meditative, astute and at times genuinely funny drama. As Zed, a young British-Pakistani hip hop artist, he experiences generational trauma, feelings of alienation and thoughts of artistic inadequacy, and struggles to make sense of his life after an unexpected tragedy.

We first meet Zaheer – aka Zed – in New York where he is preparing for a major world tour as the opening act for a global hip hop superstar. Only days before it begins, he decides to fly back home to London to visit his family, whom he has barely seen for two years. Once home, he is suddenly taken ill and subsequently given a shocking diagnosis.

Determined to get back on his feet and fulfil his touring contract, Zed struggles to piece together what remains of his life, while attempting to reconnect with his quietly disapproving father Bashir (Alyy Khan). Meanwhile, as the ambitious and insufferable rising star RPG (Nabhaan Rizwan) hopes to usurp Zed on the hip hop scene, the ailing MC fights for his life in hospital plagued by feverish nightmares: memories of childhood trauma intertwine with memories of violent events in his parents’ lives.

There are some impressively grandiose set pieces in the film, most notably a concert scene which sees Zed on stage, contorting and snarling, and delivering an MC set that, even allowing for Ahmed’s career as an established rapper (most prominently in the group Swet Shop Boys), is striking and memorable.

Self-deprecating, funny and hugely likeable, Ahmed also shines in one particular hospital scene: he battles to hang on to his virility when his female consultant warns him he should consider freezing his sperm if he wants children in the future. Another further wake-up call about where his life is heading occurs when he calls the lover he left back in New York who has seemingly moved on.

Less focused, perhaps, are the frequent allusions to Bashir’s perilous childhood journey between India and Pakistan during the turbulent partition wars; this is often over-reliant on heavily coded allegories and symbolisms.

Overall, though, Mogul Mowgli is a self-assured portrayal of a young man’s struggle between tradition and modernity, and if the dense narrative is not always accessible, it broaches some important issues most effectively. Fresh, amusing and sometimes heartbreaking.


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