A rap star of Pakistani descent, musician Zed born in Great Britain. That's the role played by Riz Ahmed in Bassam Tariq's debut film. After a great role in “Sound of Metal” Ahmed played a music star with various health problems again. Besides casting the lead role, the British actor is also responsible for the screenplay. Among the other characters it is hard to find familiar faces, although it does not in any way belittle their acting and what they contributed to the whole "Mogul Mowgli" project.
During his quite a low-key show in New York City, Zed is asked to perform as support act on the European tour of another more popular rapper. The moment he had been awaiting for a long time, the moment that would move his career forward, finally was about to happen. A week before the tour begins he decides to visit his family in London, and as he has not seen them for over two years neither he nor the viewer can expect an idyllic atmosphere.
“Mogul Mowgli” is a movie about dreams and ambitions, but above all it is a movie addressing problems relating to identity. A descendant of Pakistani immigrants from India, living in the United States, born in Great Britain, Muslim Zed is a true example of a man identified with an absurdly wide range of social groups. It is the main character who is filled with symbolism and hits hardest at the problems of the modern world including the issue of belonging.
With every minute of the movie we expand our image of Zed and his spiritual situation. Spiritual situation, because it is the sphere that the authors tend to portray the most at the beginning. They decided to multiply the scenes showing depressive and manic visions and hallucinations of the protagonist. He clearly has not dealt with his past, and his uncertainty about his future and the aforementioned split between multiple worlds means that at some point he cannot handle the stress and pressure and gets carried away in contact with a random person he meets. This is when his mental problems become a companion to his physical problems. Unfortunately for Zed, his condition is not the easiest one. Quite the opposite, the primary diagnosis casts a shadow over his plans.
The film shows a contrasting view of immigrant society in Britain. The protagonist's mother is a firm believer in Hinduism, while her spouse is a devout Islamist and Allah worshipper. These very identity problems of Zed and his family accumulate during his visit to the hospital. This is where his subconscious is haunted by debilitating hallucinations, and at the climax of his problems he experiences a complete loss of identity, in a way, the death of his soul. When his body and soul truly degenerate it is the moment when he regains control over what happens to his life.
Bassam Tariq's debut film is a very well-constructed story that hits on everything we do not want to think about and are afraid to express and admit. Talking of the technical side, everything presented is not subject to much discussion or criticism. The film is correctly edited, and what we are presented with (including the scenes symbolizing Zed's visions and dreams) does not deviate from the widely accepted norms in cinematography. The way the actors play meets the expectations of the audience at times surprising even the most demanding viewers. The weakness of the movie, however, is the symbolism. The metaphorical references are sometimes unknown even to connoisseurs, and some of the references can be understood only with a specialized taste in Pakistani literature. However, this would not be a problem, if it was not for the fact that crucial moments in the film are connected to the literature and culture of Pakistan and the India-Pakistan conflict.
The title of the film clearly reflects the character and situation of the character played by Riz Ahmed. Mowgli, as a character from "The Jungle Book" who lived somewhere verge of the animal and human worlds, bears an uncanny resemblance to Zed. On the other hand, the title of the film is presented in two languages - the word Mogul in Urdu and Mowgli in Hindi. The most important symbol, however, is the phrase, which is also a verse of Zed's last song, Toba Tek Singh. This slogan, repeatedly uttered with a lot of energy, is also the name of a region inhabited by people who, despite their presence in
India and Pakistan, are not identified with either nationality. In free translation it means no man's land which only highlights the problems of identity and its definition among these people.
"Mogul Mowgli" is not an easy film, showing how many problems identification poses in the modern world and what the constant pursuit of an undefined goal with simultaneous forgetting of one's roots can lead to. The philosophical and existential considerations made by the authors of this film are very appropriate, and the whole project, despite many difficult metaphors, makes for a very good production which can be recommended without hesitation to anyone who is not afraid to ask questions.