More than a way of life or expression, music is for Zed a way of anesthetizing himself from his surroundings, from the Pakistani restaurant that his father has set up in the UK for a living, for example.
This is how the director Bassam Tariq portrays during a fragment of the film ‘Mogul Mogwli‘Zaheer’s past me, what the character he plays is really called Ahmed Rice in a feature film that could almost be said to pick up the baton of the drummer he played in ‘Sound of Metal’, and which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
An alter ego of Tariq and Ahmed
Although Ahmed’s two recent works have in common being film debuts by filmmakers and being stories that have directly touched his heart, in a way that he cannot explain it, in tune with the words he shared. Ahmed on the social network Twitter During the promotion of ‘Mogul Mogwli’ in 2020, this latest feature film is specifically “the most personal work” of the actor, in which he extrapolates his own claims through a character that he uses to channel issues related to his origins and identity conflicts.
Like Riz Ahmed (Rizwan, actually), Zed is a rapper of Pakistani descent who grew up in the UK after his parents emigrated to this country. However, his life, his career and his partner are in New York, so when it comes time to take off in his musical career with a tour as an opening act that passes through the United Kingdom, a small gap in your perfectly balanced scale, with a relationship that can no longer continue for FaceTime and the “obligation” to return home to visit his family, whom he has not seen for two years.
It is then that he begins to question his identity again and his own muscles falter from the “fraud” of being a person straddling two worlds: a “westernized” Pakistani, the insult that a stranger spits at him when he returns home, who proclaims his identity as a Muslim in his songs.
Premiered at the Atlàntida Mallorca Film Festival, whose catalog can be viewed on the platform of streaming of Filmin, ‘Mogul Mowgli’ is for Ahmed another step forward in his work as activist to make the Muslim community visible beyond stereotypes, a facet that has led him to present a study this summer that analyzes “the nonexistence or evil presence” of Muslims according to their representation in the most popular films.
I’m fed up of seeing Muslim characters on screen either negative or non existent. The industry must change. Our new study proves what many of us always felt about #MuslimsInFilm. The cost is measured in hate & lost lives. Full speech here: https://t.co/bsfpQw4Wfe pic.twitter.com/2itt6IaESB
– Riz Ahmed (@rizwanahmed) June 10, 2021
That political commitment of the also interpreter of ‘The Night Of’ not only translates into the film with the interpretation of Zed, but is born from his own co-writing and executive production of the story, sections in which Ahmed also appears in the credits.
And not only that, some of the lyrics that the Briton raps in the film are from Ahmed’s handwriting – a kind of “duplicate” of his own singing career in which he already referred to “a disconnection from the country to which emigrates “- and they speak at first from an impetus to rise as a Muslim to the world and then as an intimate confession for not knowing exactly who you are and what land you can refer to as home.
‘Mogul Mowgli’, the need to escape from the nest to get ahead
From the film co-written by Tariq and Ahmed, his tone stands out for working the depth of the story with a balance in which irreverent touches save the plot of something that it is made clear that it does not want to be: a raw drama of the racial.
When the moment of truth comes to Zed’s life, that of becoming even more known with a tour that will also take him through the country where he grew up, the rapper falls ill and takes over his arrogant speech that is pure facade a figure that represents “the evil of a separation” and that is the antagonist of the plot from a perspective of the delusional and the dreamlike.
That non-existent dialogue that the rapper and his “executioner” cross over in a veiled way through images – most of them are flashbacks or Ahmed’s personal files that show, for example, his father’s restaurant as a kind of ghetto, the failure to achieve the ideal model pursued in his environment, or the strangeness of those he considers the same as coming from second or successive generations— reveals a mirror in which they become latent Zed’s traumas, his complex but also the true revolution and strength with which to nourish in the land of those who are nobody.
A few minutes after the first image of the film, Riz Ahmed raps surrounded by darkness a clairvoyant letter that anticipates the internal conflict of the character: the fight between the “false identity” that has been created to achieve his dreams as a singer and his strange connection with his family environment. “We weren’t born to be loved, I’m made to prove myself“says one of the verses that the actor spits in the film.
Although it is true that the romantic subplot of Zed with his girlfriend is the one that least attracts our attention, despite contributing a grain of sand to the cause to reveal the uprooting of Zed, and there are resources that pull the stereotyped and that can be too obvious, almost everything that surrounds the protagonist in his particular journey has a strange beauty and is still a feeling that can be familiar: the need to get away from the nest in order to get ahead and succeed.
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Riz Ahmed shines in a chronicle of the “doomed” identity of second generations of migrants