Mogul Mowgli begins with a lightning bolt of energy, as up-and-coming rapper Zed (Riz Ahmed) explodes onto stage, masterfully spitting out lyrics to an enraptured audience. The son of British-Pakistani immigrants, Zed has abandoned his roots for the glittery, delirious pace of New York – a city with all the promise of a tireless future and no trace of his heavy past. Yet the arrival of a debilitating disease, coinciding with his first visit to London in two years, brings Zed’s forceful momentum to a halt, forcing a reckoning with what he has long tried to forget.

By turns charismatic, aggressive, and deeply broken, Ahmed plays Zed with acute sensitivity, brutally exposing the depths of fear, mundanity and shame that chronic sickness can provoke. Bassam Tariq’s direction is similarly perceptive, the gutting possibility of a cancelled tour intercut with scenes of Zed unable to use the bathroom without his parents’ help. This is illness at its most macro and micro, infecting every moment of a life hitherto greedily lived.

Yet, Mogul Mowgli also reaches beyond the confines of illness cinema, its triumph lying in its recognition of the profoundly entangled nature of identity: Urdu music plays over tourist shots of London, and intergenerational, colonial trauma is hallucinated in a hospital bed. Defiantly ambitious – at times overly so – Mogul Mowgli is a relentless study of the complexity of home and dislocation, of the myriad threads that connect and tether and fray.

There are moments when Mogul Mowgli fails to meet its own impossibly high standards, but it is buoyed throughout by rich ambition and a tour-de-force performance by Ahmed. An audacious exploration of what it means to be at home – in one’s body, family, and country – Mogul Mowgli may well be British cinema’s most vital contribution this year.

RATING: 4/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Riz Ahmed, Alyy Khan, Sudha Bhuchar, Nabhaan Rizwan

DIRECTOR: Bassam Tariq

WRITERS: Bassam Tariq, Riz Ahmed

SYNOPSIS: A young British-Pakistani rapper submits to a mysterious debilitating illness on his first visit home in two years.