It’s hard not to see the similarities between Mogul Mowgli and last year’s Sound of Metal. Both films star Riz Ahmed in a blisteringly good performance as a musician (in Metal, he’s a drummer; in Mowgli, he’s a rapper) struck down by impairment. Sound of Metal dealt with deafness, adding an existential layer to a tragic story of loss. It also allowed director Darius Marder to experiment with various aural and visual techniques to display his condition. Mogul Mowgli is more of a spiritual film, dealing with issues of cultural displacement and generational trauma. Where Sound of Metal was an exercise in bruising realism, Mogul Mowgli is unafraid to spin into mystical dream sequences, placing our protagonist face to face with questions he’s been hiding from for a long time.
Ahmed plays Zed, a British-Pakistani rapper whose verses concern his own quarrels with cultural identity. A beloved figure in the New York City underground rap world, he is finally on the cusp of mainstream success. Given the chance to open on a massive European tour, Zed returns home to London for the first time in years. He leaves behind a girlfriend (Aiyisha Hart) who is fed up with the precarious nature of their relationship, and arrives to a father (Alyy Khan) with whom he fails to see eye-to-eye. Zed is unsteady in his return home, and weeks before his tour begins, he is struck with weakness in his legs. He collapses and is brought to the hospital, where he’s diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that is quickly laying waste to his strength and impeding his ability to walk.
What follows is a two-sided battle: there is Zed’s battle against his father who doesn’t trust the doctor’s recommended treatments and Zed’s battle against himself and his willingness to accept that his dream may be irreparably marred by his sudden illness. Ahmed’s intense performance recalls a lot of his work in Sound of Metal, and the various stages of grief he confronts in his attempt to recover. Mowgli is much more interested in its protagonist’s spiritual journey. Its alleys into Zed’s complicated relationship with his Pakistani background (and the history of torment in the Pakistani community) are hard-charging and illuminating. Led by Ahmed, the film’s attempt to climb through Hell to reach grace has some beautiful moments.
The film is directed by Bassam Tariq. The script is written by Ahmed and Tariq, and it’s clear that Ahmed has included autobiographical elements from his own life (Ahmed too is an accomplished rapper). It’s unfortunate that the film has been released so close to Sound of Metal, making it difficult to avoid comparisons. Mogul Mowgli is in many ways a very original film in its portrayal of Zed, but it’s hard to separate it from Metal‘s brilliant portrayal of recovery. Despite the similarities, both have great performances from Ahmed, who has proven himself to be among our most electrifying actors.
Directed by Bassam Tariq