This Bassam Tariq-directed (and co-written) film stars Riz Ahmed, a great actor well-known from Four Lions, Nightcrawler and a likely Oscar contender this year for Sound of Metal. Mogul Mowgli came out at around the same time, and is about a British-Pakistani rapper who has been in the US for a while, He comes back to visit his family in the UK before leaving on a tour supporting a more famous rapper, but instead comes down with an autoimmune disease that affects his ability to walk.
Dreams and hallucinations drip through into the narrative now and then, and the conflict between his traditional British-Pakistani upbringing and his adult life in the music world is a key theme. There is a flashback to a rap battle that’s friendly, but includes an accusation of cultural appropriation from a Black rapper. Ahmed is also a rapper in his real life with the Swet shop Boys, so he knows this world well.
Ahmed is just a fantastic actor, always good, and it’s really his movie. I’m less familiar with the supporting cast of British actors, although they are all people you’ve seen bit parts in other movies. It’s well-shot, although I don’t see much need for the 4:3 ratio that’s used—it’s a hip, arty thing to do these days, but doesn’t add anything special.
It’s the type of film that BFI are willing to fund, and more inventive than your usual British fodder with an interesting story. The fact that it’s anchored by Ahmed makes the difference in this story of a young man whose life is interrupted, and now needs to decide whether to get a treatment that could help with the disease but have a heavy impact on other life choices. This brings up a point of conflict with his family, a weird situation that he isn’t sure how to handle. His relationship with his family is well explored, and he’s faced with a choice between trying to get better or trying to go on this tour and destroy himself, with the second option becoming less likely by the day. Ahmed turns in a sympathetic performance that encourages audiences to experience the dilemma alongside his character.
It’s a good film but not great, as it’s a mixed bag—Sound of Metal is definitely a bit more satisfying, while Mogul Mowgli leaves a few too many loose ends; they would be an interesting double bill. The director is mainly a documentary filmmaker, and you can see that, but he has an understanding of cinematic language that makes it a good film, especially as a first feature.
The disc includes an impressive short, Daytimer, directed by Riz Ahmed about a Pakistani boy in London who is spending his time as daytime raves instead of school. Ahmed shows promise as a director, and I would assume he’s got something in the pipeline. Other extras include a Q&A with Tariq and Ahmed from the London Film Festival, a feature commentary with them both, 23 minutes of deleted scenes, music videos for two numbers featured in the film, and in the first pressing, an illustrated booklet with an essay and short story.