It’s still unclear how the coming awards season is going to look in 2021 but I know one thing for sure: if it isn’t raining accolades for Riz Ahmed, the whole thing is rigged. As if one tour de force in Sound of Metal wasn’t enough, Ahmed delivers again and then some in Mogul Mowgli.

Riz plays Zaheer, a British Pakistani rapper who’s starting to make a name for himself on the hip hop scene in the States. He goes by the name of Zed, and while he doesn’t shy away from rapping about his roots, his self-made identity couldn’t be farther away from his own culture and upbringing. When he revisits his family in London right before leaving on a tour, he’s suddenly hospitalized with a crippling illness.

Mogul Mowgli doesn’t play out like a disease of the week drama. The focus of the story is squarely on Zed who quite literally can’t outrun the culture and customs he’s grown estranged to. Through flashes, dreams and visions we dive into Zed’s head while he battles his disease and struggles with the uncertain outcome of his treatment. We observe what empowers him, the strange figure who seems to haunt him. “Your body doesn’t recognize itself” a doctor says. The metaphors are a bit on the nose, but that doesn’t make them any less effective.

The film also focuses on Zed’s relationship with his family, in particular with his father Bashir (Alyy Khan) who’s also struggling with demons from his past. Trying to reconcile the sacrifices he’s made to make a better life for himself with the need for his children to break free from what he’s trying to preserve. Those ideas seem to be a little out of the films grasp but they leave a lasting impression either way.

Both Sound of Metal and Mogul Mowgli are similarly themed but have a very different approach to their central character’s story. The other unifying element is an undeniably strong performance from Ahmed who manages to portray his roles with such a tangible fragility.

While some of its bigger ideas remain somewhat elusive, Mogul Mowgli paints a strong portrait about finding your identity and reconnecting with your roots through adversity.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review – ‘Mogul Mowgli’

Reviewed online, January 5, 2021. Rating: TBC. Running time: 90 min.

PRODUCTION: A British Film Institute (BFI) release of a Pulse Films, BBC Films, Cinereach, Left Handed Films, RYOT Films, Vice Studios production. Producers: Riz Ahmed, Thomas Benski, Bennett McGhee, Michael Peay. Executive producers: Suroosh Alvi, Philipp Engelhorn, Danny Gabai, Leah Giblin, Dimitra Tsingou, Elliott Whitton, Eva Yates.

CREW: Director: Bassam Tariq. Screenplay: Riz Ahmed, Bassam Tariq. Editing: Hazel Baillie, Adam Biskupski. Cinematography: Annika Summerson. Score: Paul Corley.

WITH: Riz Ahmed, Anjana Vasan, Aiysha Hart, Nabhaan Rizwan, Alyy Khan, Sudha Bhuchar, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Hussain Manawer, Dolly Jagdeo, Mitesh Soni.

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