Mogul Mowgli (2021; Bassam Tariq)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opening today in San Francisco, Berkeley and San Rafael.
“Where I’m going, don’t need love.”
This Riz Ahmed vehicle contains enough echoes of Sound of Metal that you could make it into a drinking game. Take a shot every time Mogul Mowgli gives you a twinge of remembrance for Darius Marder’s overpraised award-winner, and you’ll be bleary-eyed in no time at all. Ahmed stars here as Zed, a rising rapper whose career gets interrupted by the onset of a sudden and unexpected disability. Deep in denial about his new reality, Zed grasps onto an experimental therapy and tries to reunite with his estranged girlfriend.
Sound familiar? Both films are what I call “therapy dramas,” in that the hero’s journey gets replaced by the hero figuring out his shit. However, as opposed to the often punishing literalism of Sound of Metal, Mogul Mowgli at least takes an enticingly impressionistic approach. Tariq’s film also examines the cultural identity crisis of Zed, who raps about the Pakistani roots from which he feels estranged. Zed returns to the care of his traditionalist parents, but rather than going the group hug route, Tariq bleeds together reality and memories with dreams and visions.
“Your body can’t recognize itself, so it’s attacking itself.”
Still, all the fluid dream sequences in the world can’t stop the script (co-written by Tariq and Ahmed) from dropping verbal facepalm bon mots like the two quotes above. It’s their first script, and you feel it. Ahmed as Zed is good, but I’m not sure that he’s rapping so much as reciting slam poetry, which is bad. It definitely undermines the electricity of the live performances. Tariq seems like one to watch, although Marvel recently tapped him to do something, so good luck with that.