Mogul Mowgli (4 stars)

Mogul Mowgli

Credit: Rob Youngson - Pulse Films & BBC

Riz Ahmed co-writes and stars in a fascinating drama about a rapper in crisis

Issues relating to cultural identity and masculine pride are interrogated in this fascinating drama, the narrative feature debut of Pakistan-born, American director Bassam Tariq, who co-wrote the screenplay with star Riz Ahmed. It follows thirtysomething British-Pakistani rapper Zed (played by Ahmed) who may finally be on the verge of the big time when he's taken ill and forced to depend on the very family he's fled.

'For someone who raps so much about where they're from, when was the last time you went home?' Zed's glamorous American girlfriend Bina (Aiysha Hart) asks him, when the prospect of a European tour with an established act threatens to return him to London. It's been two years since Zed has set foot in his modest family home and, although his brood are far from unloving, it's quickly apparent why.

Tensions relating to how he sees himself and is seen are immediately exposed – it transpires that he changed his name from Zahir, something that still rankles with family members, while their disapproval of his career path is also obvious. 'I can't give you my blessing if I don't believe in it,' his restaurateur father Bashir (Alyy Khan) starkly tells him. When Zed collapses and is hospitalised, Ahmed skilfully relays the terror and indignity of being incapacitated as a young man, his health hanging in the balance and his desperately fought for dream potentially being snatched away.

The differing approaches of eastern and western medicine are also highlighted and, while Zed is portrayed as being a powerful talent, the film pokes fun at lesser lights of the rap scene; Zed's rival RPG (Nabhaan Rizwan), who holds him in an esteem which is emphatically not mutual, releases a crass song called 'Pussy Fried Chicken', and the issue of musical appropriation is addressed during an imagined rap battle with a Black MC. There's almost too much to mull over here, especially for a film that can feel a touch opaque. But it diverts interestingly away from Zed's career ascent, perfectly capturing the shell shock of life pulling the rug out from under you, with this most credible of crises delved into with style.

Available to watch in cinemas from Fri 30 Oct.

Mogul Mowgli

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • UK, USA
  • 1h 30min
  • Directed by: Bassam Tariq
  • Cast: Riz Ahmed, Aiysha Hart, Kiran Sonia Sawar

Riz Ahmed plays a British-Pakistani rapper whose life spirals out of control when he succumbs to a debilitating illness, right on the cusp of his big break.