Release Date – 30th October 2020, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 29 minutes, Director – Bassam Tariq
On returning home to see his family for the first time in two years a rapper (Riz Ahmed) finds himself hospitalised with an autoimmune disease, just before he’s apart to embark on a potentially career-changing tour
Before breaking out as an actor for many years Riz Ahmed was an accomplished rap artist. As the lead in Mogul Mowgli, the directorial debut of Bassam Tariq, Ahmed absolutely steals the show, and not just when it comes to the scenes where his characters releases his frustrations via rapping. His character, Zed, initially starts speaking his thoughts out loud gradually getting louder into a fully formed rap, proclaiming his worries, stresses and fears to the audience through this method. The striking nature of this lead performance brings you in for an easily formed connection with the character that is created.
Zed has just finished a successful US tour and has been given the opportunity to be the opening act on a bigger artists upcoming European tour. In-between this he flies home from the heights of New York skyline apartments to his parents’ secluded house in Wembley. It’s been over two years since he last saw them, for him the home is filled with scattered memories, some nostalgic and some he’d rather forget. Meanwhile for his Mum (Sudha Bhuchar) and Dad (Alyy Khan) the feeling is that of happiness that their son is back in person, for the past two years they’ve only ever occasionally heard him on the radio, featuring music that isn’t exactly to their tastes.
However, Zed isn’t at home for long. He quickly finds himself being rushed to hospital and being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, causing his body to effectively attack itself; leaving him almost unable to properly move. Yet, his priorities remain on his upcoming tour, doing everything he can in terms of treatment and defiance to be discharged so that he doesn’t get replaced by another rapper he views as a rival – Majid (Nabhaan Rizwan) raps about “P*ssy Fried Chicken” in music videos featuring twerking and people with rubber chicken masks wielding guns. But, as it becomes increasingly certain that Zed won’t make the tour his deteriorating body leads him on something of a journey of exploration.
Tariq and Ahmed’s screenplay, and indeed the film as a whole, is deeply personal. The central figure is almost haunted visions and flashbacks relating to his, and his family’s. Pakistani background, as his body deteriorates he finds himself having to come to terms more with who he is. At one point as his anger begins to peak, leaving behind the idea of rap as he gradually breaks down, shouting “I’m stuck. I’m never going to be what I f*cking want to be. I’m stuck at this f*cking bullsh*t level!” The outburst shows Zed’s near defeat, how much he feels left alone by himself. Even with other people in the room occasionally Ahmed will come close to breaking the fourth wall, looking near the camera in a lost and silent gaze as if looking to the audience as his only source of help, knowingly unable to properly confront or ask them. There’s true pain in his performance, pushed further by the personal nature of the piece, and in a film filled with great performances he still manages to truly stand out.
Zed’s raps take the form of the film itself. Once fully taking shape, which doesn’t take long to do, it starts off quiet but gets louder and more passionate as it goes on. Bringing the viewer in with each new detail and idea, all keeping relevance and adding to the pain that everyone is feeling. An interesting delve into the main character’s background, of which he’s told he talks about so much on stage but barely ever spends time looking into, not without its emotional beats all infused with heart, passion and care for the subject matter. It all comes together with the fingerprints of a great deal of work and effort into something for all to be able to connect with. One thing’s for sure, everyone involved certainly isn’t stuck on the same level, they all bring their best, making for an even bigger impact throughout.
Heartfelt, caringly made and passionate Ahmed’s raps are astounding and so are the performances that line the piece. This is a number of steps above the average discovery through deterioration story. You’ll be as invested and enthralled as the crowds at Zed’s shows, and you’ll also have the emotional connection with the support too.