Mogul Mowgli | Reel Asian 2020 Review

by Andrew Parker

A movie with a lot on its mind and not enough time and space to express it all, Mogul Mowgli is a deliberately off-balance drama bolstered by an electrifying leading performance from co-writer and producer Riz Ahmed.

Zed (Ahmed) is an aging Pakistani-British rapper on the cusp of breaking through to mainstream success after years of toiling in the independent scene. Shortly before the biggest tour of his career, Zed returns to the UK to pay his family a visit after not seeing them for the past couple of years. While there, Zed begins to notice that his motor skills have begun to rapidly fail him, and eventually he has to be hospitalized, where he slowly reconciles with the possibility that he’s missing his final shot at stardom.

Disease movie elements aside, Mogul Mowgli finds Ahmed – an underrated rapper in his own right – coming at missed chances for success from a semi-autobiographical perspective. There isn’t a moment of Ahmed’s performance that feels inauthentic, especially during sequences where viewers can see Zed coming to life on stage or in battle rap situations. Even in the slightly more cliched and unsubtle melodramatic moments, Ahmed reaffirms his leading man status. Ahmed gets a great assist from Pakistani-American director and co-writer Bassam Tariq, whose background in documentary filmmaking gives Mogul Mowgli a further sense of realism.

The problem with Mogul Mowgli is that it never fully decides what sort of film it wants to be, and in turn never settles on any sort of tone. From moment to moment, Mogul Mowgli could be a film about overcoming disease, loss of cultural identity, reconnecting with family, the dumbed-down machinations of the music industry, or disconnecting and dissociating from reality. Alternating between rushing and dragging – and barely clocking in at 90 minutes – Mogul Mowgli is the type of narrative and character study that needs far more room to breathe than it has been given. It’s worth seeing for Ahmed’s deeply personal performance alone, but the film on the whole is a frustrating mixed bag.

Mogul Mowgli screens online as part of the 2020 Reel Asian Film Festival from Thursday, November 12 to Thursday, November 19. All 2020 Reel Asian online screenings are geolocked to Canada.

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