At long last, I finally sat down to watch Riz Ahmed’s 2020 film, Mogul Mowgli. The movie follows Zed, a British Pakistani rapper who makes a trip back home after two years to reconnect with his parents before embarking on a tour.
But as fate would have it, Zed discovers he has an autoimmune disease, forcing him to rehabilitate his health and rectify his relationship with his parents. In the process, we see aspects of his career and his culture blend together as he embarks on a journey of healing, both outward and inward.
Diving Beneath The Surface
The film dives deep into the South Asian diasporic experience and the generational trauma that grows alongside it. Woven throughout the film are key moments that serve to represent multiple aspects of Zed’s life, from childhood to adulthood. There are deeper discussions of the struggle to maintain a connection to culture and religion while one’s assimilation to westernized culture takes over. Simultaneously, it acknowledges the different experiences people have as they are raised under a traditional household in a western nation. Through the dynamic Zed has with his family and religious community, we see glimpses of the way people of his own generation feel about and react to his own personal perspectives of religion and culture.
For those part of any diaspora, it’s never easy to find that feeling of belonging, and often it becomes nearly impossible. Throughout the movie, this exact conversation is held multiple times, whether between Zed and his parents, or through the rap tracks that we see performed on stage or formulated in Zed’s mind. Along with it is the discussion of the partition and its continued impact in the present day, as well as cultural appropriation, further adding to the conversation of belonging.
Visually and performance-wise, Mogul Mowgli is absolutely stunning. From the off-putting and disorienting visions that our main character has, down to the intense and raw rap tracks that are performed, there is so much to take in throughout the film. I especially loved the heavy use of culture and language as a natural and significant aspect of the characters’ lives instead of it being casually thrown in for plot. In addition, Riz Ahmed exudes an energy in his performance that is enhanced by the small parallels between his life and the character itself. I cannot think of a better person to push a story like Mogul Mowgli along than Ahmed himself.
In a time when the South Asian experience is becoming more prominent with our history being shared and taught through media, I can confidently say that Mogul Mowgli is an invigorating film. Not only does it provide us with a narrative that many of us are familiar with, but it does so in such a way that is blunt and digs deep beneath the surface of the diasporic experience. If you have 90 minutes to spare, I highly recommend taking that time to watch this film and to soak it all in. Yes, it will require your full and undivided attention, and it will take you in directions you may not expect. But I promise that the payoff is something very bizarre yet also very satisfying.
Strange World receives 4.5 out of 5 Samosas.
Mogul Mowgli is available to stream on HBO Max.