Mogul Mowgli starts in medias res on stage with Zed, a Brit-Pakistani Rapper (Riz Ahmed) enthralling his audience with his rap verse. The choice of camerawork and the full frame aspect ratio gives it this raw authentic feel that not everyone will like and hits you hard right off the bat. It is clear that this is not a comfortable film to watch, is it a good film, though?
I would argue that it is a best effort, a one man show, delivering on a tough subject of identity crisis, while at times missing the mark or leaving the viewer uninterested or uninvolved despite the immediacy of camera work, framing and ambience. It still delivers a cohesive story about identity struggle, the loss of it or fear of losing oneself and the illness that befalls Zed could be interpreted as a physical manifestation of that destructive loss of not belonging anywhere, as Zed puts it in verse at about half way through the film: “so where I’m from … is kinda long” (47:59).
As Zed is about to have his breakthrough and go on tour, he is struck down by a degenerative disease that weakens his muscles to the point where his body is destroyed from the inside, his own white blood cells don’t recognize his body and attack it, as his doctor explains. Unable to walk or perform, Zed has to abandon the tour and the British Asian artist RPG (Nabhaan Rizwan), who is a fan of Zed’s ends up replacing him, performing one of his tracks. All the while, Zed thinks RPG is a joke and RPG with his breakout single “Pussy Fried Chicken” tells Zed that they are the same, a mirror image.
For the rest of the film we follow Zed on this brutal and intimate journey through this sickness and eventual reconciliation between father and son, rapping to RPG’s version of “Toba Tek Singh” playing on the radio, together in the bathroom, leaving the viewer in a mixed state between hope and anxiety for the future, as Zed faces the camera one last time.
At times comical in its externalization of Zed’s fears and anxieties, there is a flow to the story that carries the viewer along and through like a current with rapids and slow downs, esp. when we are shown Zed’s past in dream like flashbacks, which leaves us with a cohesive experience in the end, albeit an intense one. Riz Ahmed’s performance is certainly worthy of praise and carries the whole film.