MOGUL MOWGLI (2020) is clearly drawn from experiences and identities that star Riz Ahmed can relate to. He co-wrote the film, alongside director Bassam Tariq, and it’s clearly a personal piece. Ahmed plays a successful rapper who has to deal with a degenerative condition. In doing so he confronts his life and fame, especially in relation to his British-Pakistani heritage. Ahmed, one of Britain’s finest actors, plays everything perfectly, and so anchors the entire film.
MOGUL MOWGLI is very similar to a lot of the current crop of British indie cinema. It is about the diverse groups that make up modern British society, and yet also focuses on intimate struggles. It draws on realism stylistically, although one may consider it faux-realist for a few reasons. The initial setup is a contrived bunch of dramatic clichés, with our lead finding big success, enduring a breakup, and feeling far from home. The narrative is filled with cheesy moments and it even has the movie cliché of experimental surgery. Dreams and hallucinations dip in and out. While MOGUL MOWGLI is derived from realistic cinema, and uses an intimate aspect ratio to appear less cinematic, it is not kitchen sink realism. It’s a lyrical take on real life.
MOGUL MOWGLI is a film of values, as the lead tries to navigate both British and Pakistani ways of life. He tries to find identity and values across his two cultures. Ideas around haram and appropriation are both brought up. Trying to be an individual does not lead to acceptance. A black character is offended by his use of rap. These are two people whose cultures were crushed by an empire, and now they squabble over music. Incidentally the use of rap in MOGUL MOWGLI is fantastic. Firstly it allows Riz Ahmed to show off his talents. Secondly all the rap means the film can use literal poetry to express feelings and culture. This is a film of art, and the way it allows us to be ourselves.
Dust hangs in the air. The past is reduced to photos and memories. MOGUL MOWGLI is about finding the right priorities. Ahmed’s sympathetic lead finds himself trying to choose between rap and health. But he also has to fight his own ego. His body is attacking him, a nice metaphor for the narrative itself. His condition is also hereditary however. Within the story, he has to find peace with his family. In his rap he’s trying to stand up for his blood, but the disease in his literal blood won’t let him stand up.
MOGUL MOWGLI is a fine film, though it is a little standard for the type of indie movie it is. One may even call it predictable. However Riz Ahmed totally commits and he is a compelling presence. It’s a slight and moving film, both complicated and intimately simple. While not perfect, it is deeply heartfelt.