Riz Ahmed Can Rap? (London Film Festival)
It is no exaggeration to say that Riz Ahmed has quickly become one of the most essential actors of his generation. Introduced to most holding his ground against an unhinged Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler, Ahmed has gone from prestige HBO drama to the outer limits of space in Rogue One. However, there has been a clear divide between his early beginnings in the world of rap to his career as an actor. Rap is a uniquely powerful form of expression, so it’s little wonder why Ahmed has co-written and produced the new film- Mogul Mowgli.
Playing a rapper known simply as Zed, Ahmed is given a role perfectly suited for his talents. Zed is more representative of a generation than a fully formed character, with a certain distance preserved throughout. While we learn he has been working as a rapper for 15 and is about to go on tour, ultimately much of his life is illusive.
Surrounded by his fans we meet a brash and loud young musician who when with his family is a far more restrained young man, respecting his religious roots despite no longer embracing them as his own. So fragmented is his self-identity that it’s only when a pushy fan mistakes him for another rapper that he begins to react violently. It's through Zed's rap performances that we see Ahmed at his most electrifying- bubbling with humour and rage.
But the character's enthusiasm soon begins to change when he finds himself faced with a life-shattering blood disease. No longer able to commit to the tour of his dreams he is thrust into a world of fragmented memory as his mind wanders. Images of personal and inter-generational trauma assault him during his chemo-adjacent treatment. While on paper this may sound like the film enters the horror genre, in reality, it’s clearly grounded in a fever dream logic.
The heart of the film lies mainly in the relationship between Zed and his father- Bashir, masterfully played by Alyy Khan. Bashir doesn’t understand his son's career path but avoids playing the stereotype of the disappointed father, so prevalent in Asian families when portrayed on screen. Instead, he plays the role with a wry humour. From his strange obsession with making money to his hoards of cassette tapes, Khan is superb ( especially the beautiful scene where his son teaches him to rap).
As a fairly brief feature (around 90 minutes) it feels like Mogul Mowgli has far too much on its mind for its runtime and definitely could have used some breathing room for all the topics it wanted to cover. However, its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses and is a unique showcase of Ahmed’s talents, both on-screen and behind the mic.
You can catch Mogul Mowgli from the 30th of October in Cinemas, with advance previews currently available at certain festivals such as London Film Fest. If you are a fan of Ahmed and music films, it's definitely worth a watch!
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