The idea for “Mogul Mowgli” first began in 2017 when British actor, rapper and activist Riz Ahmed met Bassam Tariq, a producer and independent filmmaker, between trips to New York. Almost three years later, the pair is debuting “Mogul Mowgli” in Berlin’s Panorama. The film, which Tariq directed and co-wrote with Ahmed, who also stars, is story about a British Pakistani rapper who is set to begin his first world tour when an illness threatens his big break and is forced to move back in with his traditional Pakistani family.
Compared to his recent work in Darius Marder’s “Sound of Metal,” which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year, “Mogul Mowgli” allowed Ahmed to explore a cinematic space that he says was slightly more heightened and surreal. Ahmed describes his character as “an artist who defines himself through his work and success and through all these external sources of validation, and it’s not until he is put in this vulnerable situation that he realizes that that is not who he really is.”
Born in London to immigrant Pakistani parents, Ahmed, also known as Riz MC in the music realm, has been at the forefront of pushing representation in Hollywood. The actor, along with Tariq — whose work has aimed at bringing the Muslim experience to a wider audience — wants to change the narrative around brown people on screen. “A lot of the movies I would … see with people who look like me in it or stories about people who look like me, they’re often about social realist kind of dramas, or they’re comedies,” he says. Ahmed’s motivation is to create stories that not only have diversity, but also are truly representative of how those diverse communities are shown onscreen.
“I often spend a lot of time talking about the changes that we need in our industry and our society,” says Ahmed, “but rather than talking about it, I felt like this was an opportunity to really try and be a part of that change and dream up a story that was really unapologetically mining our own experiences as brown creators.”
“Mogul Mowgli” is, says Ahmed, at its heart, “a father-son story. A story about family.” It’s Ahmed’s first feature film producing credit, and “a really personal piece of work.”
“Something that I always try to ask myself is, what is the thing that I wish existed that doesn’t exist yet?” says Ahmed. “And can I help bring that up? And that’s what this is.”
Ahmed has starred in major films including “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “Nightcrawler” alongside Jack Gyllenhaal; as the first South Asian to win an Emmy for his role in HBO’s “The Night Of,” he’s used to breaking barriers for brown creators and “Mogul Mowgli” is one reflection of the work that is yet to come from the actor.