One of the films at this year’s BFI London Film Festival 2020 is Mogul Mowgli, written by and starring Riz Ahmed (“Nightcrawler”, “Rogue One”) and directed by and co-written by Bassam Tariq (“Ghosts Of Sugar Land (Short)”, “These Birds Walk”).
It tells the story of Zaheer (Ahmed) or Z (“Zee”) as he prefers to be known. He’s a rapper, on the cusp of making it big, from London but living in New York and is offered the opportunity to support Dante Smith, one of the biggest rappers around, on his European tour.
This means he’ll be off, home, and his girlfriend Bina, Aiysha Hart (“Colette”, “Hope Gap”), doesn’t want a face-time relationship so ends things before he leaves. This leaves Z heading to his parent’s house prior to going on tour.
Zaheer hasn’t been home in some two years and his parents have never really ‘got’ his music career, instead still very traditional in their ways.
Whilst home Zaheer meets up with some old friends, some who won’t call him Z, accusing him of losing his way, that America has changed him. And, whilst having a crafty fag, he gets into a fight with someone over a racial slur but collapses in pain, ending up in hospital.
He is told that he has a degenerative muscle disease, his white blood cells are attacking his muscles, weakening them. His body can’t recognise itself.
As if things couldn’t get worse for Zaheer, his manager visits him in hospital to inform him that the rapper he hates the most in the world, RPG, is going to be taking his slot on the European tour.
Mogul Mowgli is a great film, Tariq directs in a way that at first is confusing, but eventually does find its gear. It switches between the ‘here and now’ and Zaheer’s visions, both his and those of his father’s past.
We switch from vibrant colours to dank, depressing hospital rooms, from Z on stage, the crowds handing off every word, to him being unable to heard by his own parents.
Ahmed relishes the role, a man solely focused on being the best rapper, the top dog, that even his health isn’t going to stop him, until it does.
Alyy Khan (“Traitor”, “Don 2”) is the father and performs wonderfully. He can’t give his son the blessing he wants as he doesn’t understand what it is, he’s doing. But he is there for him, helping him through his illness in his own way.
The film may draw comparisons to 8 Mile, the Marshall Mathers story/non-story, but this far grittier and more dramatic than that.
Mogul Mowgli is a film about identity, strength, family and so much more. Whilst the dialogue may be quieter than a church on Wednesday, overall it’s a well put together piece of work that will start a dialogue in some households.