Riz Ahmed brings a career-best performance as a fledgeling rap star struck down with an autoimmune disease days before his big break in Bassam Tariq’s Mogul Mowgli.
Zed, a British-Pakistani rapper has been based in New York for two years. Taking heed from his girlfriend Zed returns home to visit his family on the eve of his potentially break out European Tour. Conflicts with the culture he has tried to get away from and his own health cause Zed’s body to fail him dramatically, potentially costing him his break.
Zed is unhappy, feeling held back by his own culture, or at least the one that he has tried to leave behind in London. There is a reason why he has not returned home even for a brief visit for so long. Upon his return, his value as an individual feels dropped. His mother will not install a washing machine he got for them, and his father derides him for not sorting his room yet. Zed feels as if he has not only moved on from his life in London. He wants to think he has improved on it by almost escaping the turmoil of being a British-Pakistani.
Each encounter wears Zed down, making him question himself more and more, why is he back here? Haunted by memories of being constantly reminded of what others have gone through. He wants none of it, despite his father’s harrowing tale of escaping partition (which is glimpsed at throughout the film). He is truly disengaged from his past and hates being constantly reminded of such by friends and family.
Mogul Mowgli tries to have its cake and eat it by not only trying to handle the complexities of culture in a modern environment. But, also how the resilience to continue on with a new understanding of his culture and acceptance that it is always going to be a part of him. Albeit forced upon him by his sudden and potentially catastrophic illness. It is a beautiful conclusion to a film that doesn’t try to sugarcoat its finish. There is hope sure. However a lot of track needs to be laid for that train to get to its destination.
Undisputedly, this is Riz Ahmed’s star turn, to those unfamiliar with his work, they will be surprised by it, but this type of performance has been coming for a while with stronger and stronger performances as years have gone by. Obviously, this is semi-autobiographical and deeply personal to Ahmed and it shows. There is so much care to this performance that Ahmed oozes confidence in the role. His presence is spell-binding as you cannot help but follow what he does, be it from his rapping on stage, to his gentle conversations with his mother and father. Ahmed throws everything he has into this performance and he should reap the rewards for it.
While a lot of applause should rightly go to Ahmed for his role. There should be a lot of appreciation to Alyy Khan who is outstanding as Zed’s father Bashir. His support throughout the film helps even out the questions Zed asks himself continually. Culminating in that final scene that will surely have the audience silently chanting along.
Tariq and cinematographer Annika Summerson chose to keep the camera in almost constant motion when we see Zed in the early scenes speak with friends in New York. The camera moves as if we are a friend standing there with him, gently swaying and roving around carefree. We are also forced into close up shots throughout the film, making us feel like Zed. Suffocating by being home, suffocated with not being able to handle what is happening with him physically and emotionally. It is a clever technique to help draw the audience into Zed’s plight and is perfectly utilised here.
While the story, acting and direction draws you into Mogul Mowgli a brief word has to be said to the production design. When Zed returns home and we see his family home in West London. The audience is almost jarred to how authentic that house is. From the packed kitchen to the discard bedroom that Zed has abandoned for years, leaving strewn memories here and there. You would get the impression that this wasn’t designed at all and was just found this way. Credit has to go to Production designer Francesca Massariol and Set Decorator Sofia Stocco for their tremendous work here. It is these little touches to the film that help it a film like this stand out,
From the start to the enthralling end Mogul Mowgli solidifies Riz Ahmed as one of best actors out there today. An outstanding, unmissable film.