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  Mogul Mowgli Rap Is Balm For The Soul
Year: 2020
Director: Bassam Tariq
Stars: Riz Ahmed, Anjana Vasan, Aiysha Hart, Nabhan Rizwan, Alyy Khan, Sudar Bhuchar, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Hussain Manawer, Dolly Jagdeo, Mitesh Soni, Ahmed Jamal, Jeff Mirza, Ali Barouti, Abu-Hurairah Sohail, Shaheen Khan, Ali Gadema, Andrea Hart
Genre: Drama, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Zed (Riz Ahmed) is the name he goes by on stage, but to his family he is Zaheer, not that he has seen them in around two years as she fights to make a success of his career as a rapper. Now in his thirties, he has a fanbase but has never broken through to anything like the mainstream, so when a chance to go on a major tour arises, he jumps at it, convinced he can now bring his socially conscious rap to the masses if this goes well. However, his girlfriend Bina (Aiysha Hart) is growing tired of his careerist attitude, and persuades him to return to his hometown back in Britain to catch up with his folks, unaware that this will be more significant that he anticipates...

Mogul Mowgli was a pet project of writer and star Ahmed who had been building an impressive body of work ever since he broke through as an actor, if not so much a rapper, in Chris Morris's terrorism satire Four Lions in 2010. Ten years on, he had his own very specific ideas about the story he wanted to tell, which in collaboration with documentary maker Bassam Tariq had elements of autobiography, but added a TV movie-style disease of the week plotline to what was an intriguing examination of British-Pakistani life as seen from the inside. The fact it was something of a muddle did not mean it was merely worth dismissing, however, it did have value.

Of course, a lot of this was only going to make a huge amount of sense to those with the same background as Ahmed, and he littered the imagery with references to both Pakistani and Brit-South Asian experience that would be lost on many of those without that well to draw on. That said, there were enough cues here to fill in the gaps in the knowledge the average outsider to the cultures might suffer, and the fretting over the cultural identity and how much is taken from authentic sources and how much was appropriated was a universal feeling. Or it should have been anyway, not that you can go through life worrying about the origin of everything you are influenced by.

This was an issue Ahmed and Tariq brought up again and again as Zed is struck down by a serious genetic condition and has to reassess his life. Having more time to ruminate now he is not on that tour, we are privy to his dreams and nightmares about the subjects that plague his thoughts: should he spend more time with his parents, should he start a family himself (difficult when the stem cell treatment could render him impotent), to what extent has he stolen his chief mode of artistic expression from the black community, and so forth. There was even more to this film than that, and you may find yourself wishing they had picked one pressing topic and stuck with it, since this really had too much on its plate and risked incoherence, as if Ahmed was afraid he would never get this chance again.

It was true to observe Zed seems too long in the tooth to be expecting his big breakthrough, especially when the man playing him had achieved star status in more than a couple of projects, though his music would remain a secondary occupation in relation to the acting he was best known for. But this was addressed with a buffoonish younger rapper (Nabhan Rizwan) who suggested Ahmed was sceptical about the generation below him and their ability to carry the subject matter that he had made his stock in trade, so perhaps it was not completely unbelievable. Alyy Khan as Zed's father, with whom he has a relationship that wasn't distant but wasn't close either, gave a very good account of himself and the scenes he shared with the star were among the strongest, who doesn't appreciate daddy issues in domestic drama, after all? So there was a force here that energised the unfocused themes and made this more vital than it might have otherwise, it just needed a more controlled hand to guide it. Music by Paul Corley.

[The BFI release this on Blu-ray with the following special features:

Presented in High Definition
Feature commentary by Bassam Tariq and Riz Ahmed
Mogul Mowgli LFF Q&A (2020, 20 mins): Bassam Tariq and Riz Ahmed talk to Elhum Shakerifar
Deleted scenes (23 mins)
Music videos for 'Once Kings' (2020, 4 mins) and 'Mogambo' (2018, 3 mins)
Daytimer (Riz Ahmed, 2014, 15 mins): a boy skips school and his familial responsibilities to go to a daytime rave
**FIRST PRESSING ONLY** illustrated booklet featuring a new essay by Elhum Skakerifar and Toba Tek Singh Saadat Hasan Manto's satirical short story about Partition]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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