In “Mogul Mowgli,” the Beat Breaks Down

In director Bassam Tariq’s first narrative film, Riz Ahmed’s Zed struggles with his immigrant identity and rap career while an autoimmune disease attacks his body.

Riz Ahmed in "Mogul Mowgli" (2020)
Riz Ahmed in "Mogul Mowgli" (2020)

Trisha Gopal


September 10, 2021


7 min

As rapper Zed, Ahmed is haunted from the inside out. He is haunted by freestyle battles that never went down, by other rappers who can’t spin language the way he can, by harrowing flashbacks of his childhood working at his father’s restaurant, by stories of his father’s childhood migrating from India to Pakistan, by a disease that makes him exponentially weaker by the minute, and by an identity he purports to speak for but cannot fully understand. And, throughout it all, he’s also haunted by Ghulam Mian (Jeff Mirza), a figure masked by a sehra who shows up only in Zed’s dreams, nightmares, and hallucinations, an ever-present avatar reminding him that there is still so much more he has to unveil.

As he returns to his childhood home in London, rapper Zed quickly has to face a side of himself he has long been avoiding. In New York, he kills with verses like, “They put their boots on our ground/I put my roots in their ground/I put my truth in this sound/I’ll spit my truth and it’s Brown,” presenting himself as a politically conscious poet in a sea of his self-hating, second-generation peers. But, as his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend Bina points out, for someone who flaunts himself as a proud Pakistani, Zed spends pitifully little time with his family.

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