Sudbury Indie Cinema: Unlike The Sound of Metal, Mogul Mowgli also looks at clashing cultures in a British immigrant's life
If a lesser performer than Riz Ahmed were behind this movie, I’d be worried about typecasting. The British-born rapper and actor was earning rave reviews (and an Oscar nomination) just nine months ago for his role as a heavy metal drummer losing his hearing in The Sound of Metal.
Now he’s back in another musician-with-a-degenerative-disease performance. In Mogul Mowgli, he stars as Zed, a British-Pakistani rapper who, weeks before embarking on a potentially career-boosting tour, finds that he has some kind of autoimmune disorder.
The diagnosis is kept deliberately vague in the screenplay, co-written by Ahmed and first-time feature director Bassam Tariq. But there is no standard treatment for it. Doctors at the London hospital where he’s been diagnosed recommend an experimental procedure with some potentially nasty side effects. Zed’s dad (Alyy Khan) takes him to receive an alternative therapy known as cupping.
But Zed is more concerned with the disease’s effects on his career. As the film opens, he’s just been offered a slot opening for a big act on a European tour. When it looks like he won’t be able to make it, his management suggests he be replaced by RPG (Nabhaan Rizwan) a rapper who’s a big fan of Zed but also clearly a poser. (The short clip we see of one of his music videos is intentionally dreadful.)
Clocking in at a trim 89 minutes, Mogul Mowgli expertly explores twin crises in the life of its protagonist. On the one hand, is his medical condition, and the pain of losing control of one’s body – something we also saw in The Sound of Metal.
But there’s also the tension of an immigrant’s son who has embraced the culture of his new homeland and finds himself looking askance at the unfamiliar ways of his parents. The two threads find common ground in a scene in the hospital in which his well-meaning mum and dad start arguing over what to do for him, and he tells a nurse that he wants them both out of the room.
Tariq throws a bit of magical realism into the mix, with Zed plagued by nightmares and hallucinations apparently induced by the story of how his father was forced to flee by rail to Pakistan during Partition. (“I just hid under a pile of clothes,” the older man snaps, unwilling to say more.) There’s also a kind of race-memory bogeyman who calls himself Toba Tek Singh, the title of a 1955 satirical short story by Pakistani author Saadat Hasan Manto.
Clearly a greater knowledge of the region’s history would enrich a viewer’s experience, but you don’t need much geopolitical background to follow and sympathize with Zed’s character. One particularly heartrending scene finds him in the hospital’s fertility clinic, preparing to make a sperm donation that will be frozen in case his treatment leaves him infertile. He rings his ex-girlfriend for, um, inspiration. Let’s just say the call doesn’t have a happy ending.
Mogul Mowgli plays Saturday and Sunday at Sudbury Indie Cinemas. For more about its schedule, go to www.sudburyindiecinema.com.
3.5 stars out of 5