Riz Ahmed delivers a stunning performance at this year’s London Film Festival in Mogul Mowgli. The story of a musician forced to switch from rap battles to battling his own body following a heartbreaking diagnosis.
When the audience first meets British-Pakistani rapper Zed, he is riding high following a performance in New York. Having moved from London in pursuit of his dream, he finally catches his big break when offered the opening slot on a major artist’s world tour.
With a week off before the tour, he returns home to see his family but collapses one evening while outside their local mosque. At the hospital, he is diagnosed with an auto-immune disease.
Faced with the prospect of missing out on the tour, Zed proceeds through the five stages of grief as rapidly as his muscles are giving up on him. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are all hurdles to overcome along his journey to recovery.
Not only struggling with his illness but he must also confront deep rooted issues from his past including his relationship with his family, his faith and place in society.
It is an incredibly personal piece of work, co-written by Ahmed himself alongside director Bassam Tariq.
Tariq in his feature debut showcases a huge amount of talent and promise. He uses the tight 1:85 ratio to isolate and trap Zed within his hospital room. Effectively mirroring how the rapper is rapidly becoming more confined in his body.
The sterile surroundings are then juxtaposed by Zed’s mindset. Coming to him in the form of feverish dreams and hallucinations of twisted memories. When inside his head, the camerawork and editing is intense, frenetic and full of energy. It is easy to see how his mind can come up with his freestyle lyrics. Effortlessly jumping from one moment or set up to the next. These sequences are visually and sensorally overwhelming but the film remains grounded thanks to Ahmed’s performance.
Whether it is explosive frustration when he discovers an arch rival will take his spot on the tour “I’m not a outreach programme for facial tattoo victims” or making small steps in bridging the gap that has grown between himself and his father, Ahmed runs the full gamut of emotions. It is an incredibly raw and powerful piece of acting.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in a scene where he makes the most awkward phone call since Jon Favreau tried to leave a message in Swingers. It could have been utterly cringeworthy but the pain and anguish Zed is feeling is beautifully portrayed by Riz that keeps the audience on his side.
Between this and The Sound Of Metal, it cements Ahmed as one of the finest actors working today.
Ahmed and Tariq shine a spotlight on a cross-section of British society that has been ill-represented on the cinema screen. With this assured debut, Mogul Mowgli proves there are more stories to tell and unlike Zed, this team certainly won’t have to worry about calling time on their career just yet. In fact, it is only going to get better.
Director: Bassam Tariq
Stars: Riz Ahmed, Aiysha Hart, Nahaab Rizwan, Alyy Khan
Runtime: 90 minutes