Written and directed by Bassam Tariq and co-written by lead star Riz Ahmed, a British Pakistani rapper is on the cusp of his first world tour but is struck down by an illness that threatens to derail his big break. Also starring: Aiysha Hart, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Nabhaan Rizwan, Alyy Khan, Anjana Vasan, Jag Patel and Abdul Hakim Joy.
The aspect that you can’t help but to talk about first with this film is Riz Ahmed’s performance, he’s been acting for over 15 years but after breaking out with mini-series The Night Of he’s been on the warpath of proving what a huge talent he is and these 90-minutes are a perfect example of that. This is a performance not quite like what you’ve seen from him so far, it combines so many different elements and pulls so much raw emotion out of him that it’s no wonder it’s immediately opened a conversation about awards season. Zed is an extremely complex character, behind his confident, skilled exterior is a bundle of insecurities, self-identity issues, fears of failure and that’s all before you reach his rapidly deteriorating health. Ahmed gives a career highlight performance that’s powerful, vulnerable, nuanced and intense, Zed’s relentless determination to give up hope of going on tour while he’s barely able to stand is heart-breaking to watch. Portraying a character at such a mentally and physically weak time is no easy task but Ahmed achieves it with such a natural, sincere quality.
After Ahmed’s performance, the aspect that stands out strongly is how they explore cultural identity, the writing weaves it so well into the whole story, it’s not a subplot or thrown in sporadically, Zed’s struggle balancing his heritage with his independent path runs deep throughout the film. It has such a brilliant authenticity to it, exploring how your roots, religion and family affect the decisions that you make in your life and when it introduces that even further as a hinderance to Zed’s medical choices, it only intensifies. There’s a constant conflict going on and the way that they bring that through with scenes that give you a view into Zed’s subconscious is a really bold and effective style that brings yet another layer to the film. It’s fascinating to watch unfold how they translate his thoughts visually and almost feels reminiscent of David Lynch in its slightly warped version of reality. Tariq’s direction brings together a lot of different elements, there are times when the film feels like a quiet drama and others where it’s packed with energy and imagination, it doesn’t limit itself which speaks to his willingness and capacity to push his work further than simply what’s expected.
The writing also has such an honest, blunt style at times, it’s refreshing and extremely relatable, it doesn’t try to take away any of the natural discomfort or awkwardness that comes through in scenes, it embraces it. Impressively, though there are aspects of the story that are going to relate to some viewers more than others, it does have a universal quality, particularly in its portrayal of Zed’s anxieties. It’s something that 99% of people will feel at some point, worrying about inadequacy or not taking the time for self-care, in a much less severe capacity of course, and constantly putting work first, it’s an ongoing battle to strike the perfect balance. The way the writing tackles that is extremely well done, both overtly and in the beginning when Ahmed’s performance subtly displays his anxieties just below the surface.
Mogul Mowgli has an elegant grasp on its subject while being utterly raw, intense and vulnerable, Ahmed’s performance is incredibly sincere, he brings so much vivid emotion to Zed in a striking and powerful manner. Tariq captures so uniquely the subject of cultural identity, his style in both writing and direction are powerful, it brings everything you’d expect from a heart-breaking drama but adds much more. Tariq had a lot to say with this film and it’s a vital conversation that brings with it a distinctive, memorable experience that will likely stay with you for a long time after the credits have rolled.