Vigorous and stylish, Mogul Mowgli is a fascinating film that strangely ties many themes neatly together. Cut down to a 4:3 format, Annika Summerson’s cinematography is naturalistic and immersive. Spectating the film, one can’t help but feel secure in the grips of Summerson’s visuals, they are stylistically inviting while being true to the situations. That truth can be felt all over Mogul Mowgli. Riz Ahmed plays the British-Pakistani rapper Zed, who is crippled by illness right before his world tour is set to begin. Written, produced, acted, and rapped by Riz Ahmed, the artist is enraptured and intensely engaged as Mogul Mowgli is a deeply personal film. But more so, it’s about culture, career, and family.
Rapping absolutely biting lyrics about cultural identity, the film speaks directly to the notions of heritage and where one really comes from. It’s this exploration through a psychological lens that makes Mogul Mowgli so stinging – it really strikes a nerve in its flinch-worthy intensity at points. Beginning on a baron train, set in a memory, then rapidly transitioning into modern day with a quiet, yet rap-ready Zed who spontaneously bursts onto the stage. This opening shows the height of Ahmed’s energy and pure talent, it’s quite a thing to behold. He embodies a spellbinding performer who raps all day, everyday. Whether sleeping in bed, in front of an audience, or in the hospital, rapping engulfs his life.
Zed returns home to England, after years of being abroad on tour, and meets his family once more. A twitch in his leg leads to severe illness as triggered by being hit during a fight with a supposed fan. Waking up in hospital, he desperately tries to be discharged so he can begin his tour the following week. Promised that he could leave if only he could walk to the elevator, Zed must come to accept that his illness is serious and that he will certainly not be going on stage anytime soon.
Much of the film is shrouded in ambiguous imagery that one assumes is a kind of trauma within Zed’s soul, his struggle is visualized through these many sets of hallucinations and apparitions from the past. Presented in a fragmented and delirious manner, the breakdown into expressive visuals captures the confusion and frustration of its main character. The intensity of anguish goes to the extreme and although it allows for immersion, it also becomes overwhelming. Naturally, due to its unique story and uncommon expression, Mogul Mowgli may prove tough for some spectators.
Bassam Tariq’s film is nimbly acute, captivating, and sometimes overwhelming. For Tariq and Ahmed, it’s incredibly personal, as represented by the richness in its depiction of culture. Certainly a film that won’t leave one’s mind anytime after spectating, Mogul Mowgli leaves quite the impression.