Pakistani-American director Bassam Tariq has created a formally explorative and poignant drama with Mogul Mowgli, showcasing a brilliant performance by Riz Ahmed, the film is an elegant examination of family conflict, culture, and self-reckoning. Tariq plays on our most deeply reserved heartstrings as we watch Zed battle with his reliance on other people after a crushing medical diagnosis.

Zed is caught between two worlds. Coming from an immigrant family who’ve settled in the UK, he has very nearly made a name for himself on the global stage, distancing himself from his home as he raps to an ecstatic audience in New York. Following a breakup with his girlfriend, he returns back home to London before he kicks starts a significant tour. Unfortunately for Zed, he ends up bedbound in hospital after an autoimmune disease takes away his ability to walk.

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The cast delivers excellent performances across the board (particularly by Alyy Khan as Zed’s father), but Riz Ahmed has knocked it out of the park, once again. There are performances by actors that focus on the recovery of illness and the general withering away of a character (e.g. Stronger, Hunger). Still, none have moved me to tears like Ahmed’s appearance achieves here. There’s a specific scene where he falls to the ground as his parents argue – when the Nurse finally arrives – he begs her to get rid of them. Listening to his voice choke as he whimpers to the Nurse and watching his body give up physically was genuinely heartbreaking. I sobbed my eyes out. It’s only the truly great actors and actresses who can give such subtle notions of internal pain and produce a tidal wave of emotional resonance, and Riz Ahmed is one of them.

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Mogul Mowgli

Whilst the film produces exciting moments with a series of visceral dream sequences, there is a sense of reliance on them. Cinematographer Annika Summerson (Await Further Instructions, Postcards from London) makes her shots in these sequences disjointed and chaotic, a real compliment to the tight aspect ratio of the film which makes the visions even more nightmarish. However, there was an overhaul of these moments, as an audience member, I was intrigued by the more tender side of Mogul Mowgli despite the scenes of feverish hallucinations being stylistically unique nonetheless. 

Mogul Mowgli has impressive lyricism when Zed performs, and his spoken words engage wonderfully with the general anger that he feels being someone of duality between the music scene and his family’s faith. It’s a constant grapple that surmounts to ultimate pressure, so you really root for his recovery. It’s a *literal* race to get back on his feet. I think most viewers will be satisfied with the outcome and outlook on identity the film presents in its final moments.

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At a crisp 90 minute runtime, Tariq’s solo feature film debut is a visually exciting and sympathetically moving piece that leaves me hopeful for his future as a filmmaker. I would pick out Ahmed’s performance as one that will regrettably be likely left outcome the major award seasons. Still, Mogul Mowgli is undoubtedly one of the many hidden gems in this year’s film festival lineup that could get some (at the very least) domestic recognition.

Mogul Mowgli Trailer

Mogul Mowgli Links – Wikipedia, IMDb



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