Musical Youth

Bassam Tariq is an American filmmaker, born in Pakistan and raised in New York. After his 2013 documentary These Birds Walk, he now joins forces with British actor Riz Ahmed to co-write Mogul Mowgli. Ahmed plays Zed, a musician struck down by an autoimmune disease that throws his life into turmoil.

ASFF: How did you and Riz Ahmed start working on Mogul Mowgli?
We were always kind of swimming around each other. I think we would always send stuff to each other that we really connected with. So I think through that, we started to build a little bit of trust – hey, let’s see how can we actually start working together. And then we did a trip together to Pakistan, which was almost like a research trip to see if, we were to work on something together, what would it look like?

ASFF: What about Zed’s autoimmune illness? How specific did you want to get with the medical details?
I think we wanted to be vague. We didn’t want to make it one thing or another, but we also wanted it to be something that he would live through. That was also very important. So we had medical consultants, we did research.

ASFF: How did you differentiate between the New York and London segments of the shoot
I think it was important that the energy in New York had a certain speed, a certain cadence and then when we came to London, things slowed down. We were on [camera] sticks, things were a bit drab. And that was intentional. Because in Zed’s head, also London meant something different. So we tried to make the journey of the film visually as well. And how Zed is feeling.

ASFF: Do you feel that Zed’s family are against his career as a musician? Do you relate to that?
I would say that Zed’s parents are not against his career. It’s not that film. It’s more about Zed’s rejection of his own family in a way or the fear of becoming them. That is more of something that I deal with. Like my parents haven’t had an issue with me being a filmmaker but I have perhaps more issues with my own family’s history and how we’re always in debt and how we’re never getting out of certain problems. So I think those were the things that I fear and I tried to run away from.

ASFF: What about the other cast of the film – like Nabhaan Rizwan, who plays rival rapper RPG. How did you come to him?
Nabhaan Rizwan…he was an actor that was in the BBC show The Informer; we saw just a few episodes and it was like, ‘This guy’s incredible’ so we brought him in and Riz and I both loved him. I took out a headshot of him. I’m like, ‘Alright, so I’ve heard a little bit of your raps, let’s just make this character together.’ So we literally went through his headshot and we put little tattoos on his face. But we worked on the character together.

Mogul Mowgli is in cinemas from 30 October. For more details, click here.

James Mottram