Dir: Bassam Tariq; Cast: Riz Ahmed, Alyy Khan, Sudha Bhuchar, Nabhaan Rizwan, Anjana Vasan, Aiysha Hart; Cert TBC, 90 min.
Riz Ahmed is a major actor, so furiously present in Mogul Mowgli it gives you a new appreciation of his talent. He co-wrote this intensely personal film with its director, Bassam Tariq, to address their shared inheritance and sense of being torn between two worlds.
The character Ahmed’s playing, a British-Pakistani rapper called Zed who’s just on the cusp of making it big, isn’t exactly a self-portrait, but he’s plugged into a fizzing, high-voltage circuit Ahmed knows his way around better than most. “Where I’m from is kind of long,” he tells a crowd, in one of the film’s handful of bracing performance pieces.
A west-Londoner who has put Muslim traditions some way behind in the rear-view – adopting Zed as a moniker over Zaheer, for instance – he’s been absent from his family for two years, taking up residence in New York while on tour. Just as he’s getting frustrated by plateauing opportunities, he gets offered an opening slot for one Dante Smith (the real-life name of Mos Def, who Ahmed supported as a grime artist, “Riz MC”, early in his own development). It means a return to London for the first leg of that tour, enabling a reconnection with his folks (Alyy Khan and Sudha Bhuchar), even as it forces a break-up with his current girlfriend Bina (Aiysha Hart).
At the same time, he suffers a crippling physical collapse which puts this professional boost in jeopardy. Zed’s diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder, likely to be hereditary, meaning that his body is mistakenly attacking itself, and all strength in his legs gives way. About half the film confines him to a hospital bed, where he deliriously hallucinates, like a much less toe-tapping equivalent of Roy Scheider’s Bob Fosse in All That Jazz.