In the story, we follow Zed's journey to understand himself and his family. Although Zed raves about issues affecting the diaspora and the importance of the family, he has lived years away from his own family. When Zed returns to the UK from New York, he struggles with his identity when questioned about a sell-out who has strayed from his roots. Then the story is about to take a turn when Zed is hospitalized with an autoimmune disease that prompts him to reflect on his relationship not only with his parents, but with life itself.
Although it's made of a completely brown cast, Mughal Mowgli tells a story that any culture or family can identify with. In an interview on Zoom, Daily Kos spoke to Tariq and cast members Anjana Vasan, Sudha Bhuchar and Alyy Khan about their experiences working on the film, the importance of representation and the message of resilience the story carries.
“It's not just about this being a brown story – isn't that great? It's how the brown stories are told. It's not just like checking a box and saying there are some brown ones People in something – well done. It's not, that's not enough, "said Vasan, who played the unapologetic character of Vaseem." I think it's about how we tell our stories on our own terms. And maybe that Look from what we're used to undermining, these things are important. And I think Mughal Mowgli is an example of this type of film. "
Everyone we spoke to about the cast shared the same feeling: “The cast was phenomenal.” Brown and Asian, the cast not only brought color to the screen, but also diversity within their own set. Bhuchar noted that the film was not made with the question, "Will white people understand this?" Instead, it presented itself with no excuse, saying that they will.
“This is a family story. It's a diaspora story. It's a story of identities, a story of trauma, fathers and sons, families, you know, it's all of these things, ”said Bhuchar. She added that stories dealing with subjects like this film are "very ingrained in who we are and how we want to see ourselves, not how the white gaze represents you."
“I would love it if people could see that our story sets us apart and makes us strong and fragile at the same time. We can only move on if we accept that instead of trying to run away. "
She notes that Zed's character exemplifies this through his sense of escape, only to find "home at home" when he is most fragile. Both Bhuchar and Khan deliver stunning performances as Zed's parents, Bashir and Nasra, as they offer an insight into the struggles, trauma and love that immigrant parents share.
“Supposedly this is a brown representation of global problems. It could come from a religious brown background, but those values could go beyond and apply to anyone in any situation, ”said Khan. “The conversations that you have in the film have a very global identification for me. So I think representative [the film] will only further break down the color barriers instead of hoisting the flag of a certain community, so to speak. "
Tariq noted that a lot of the experiences in the film were based on what he and Riz had experienced. The film portrayed real families the two came from and showed “vulnerability” that Tariq felt was “brought everyone to this project”.
“Working with friends and co-workers with whom you share a story can be so difficult, but which is so great when you have this mutual desperation to share the same thing and you know that only you are doing it with the other person can. It's just so darn exciting too, but both of us [Ahmed and Tariq] know you need each other to get to the next part of it. I think that was the really exciting part. I couldn't have done it alone. Without me he wouldn't have made it. And it's an honor that we did it together. "
"Mogul Mowgli" behind the scenes with director Bassam Tariq with Riz Ahmed [photo courtesy Pulse Films & BBC]
Tariq also pointed out the importance of representation, in addition to the pressure it brings on for people with color-breaking barriers.
“The thing is, we can't take a lot of risks, can we? As if we weren't allowed, we don't have that many chances. So when we get the chance to really be in these places, we feel like we have to do our best so we don't make mistakes, ”he said.
He added that on such an opportunity, creatives feel a burden if they screw it up.
[We] “can hurt other filmmakers who come afterwards … I think there is a burden a lot of us feel when we do this job of making sure we open the doors wider to more people. ”
Tariq's passion for film not only opens doors to others, it is also evident in his work. He hopes this film will make others more compassionate and "give each other a chance to take more risks, to mess up a bit, and to be more ambitious".
“How we tell our story is something important. I think we come from a culture that is constantly turning the language upside down. We come from a culture where we are constantly telling stories in chronological order. I think that's what we're supposed to draw from. and I want us all to be allowed to do that more of each other. "
Khan applauded Tariq's work, noting that the team behind it inspired him to be part of the film. When talking about his acting career, he said that he was inspired by "the search for truth".
“It's not just the art that you create as an actor. I look for those few and distant moments between the whole process, whether or not they are recorded, whether or not they are seen, where that search actually comes into play. ”
Khan's role as Bashir was remarkable. He portrayed a "broken" father-son relationship that many second-generation South Asians can resonate with – but it wasn't easy.
“Ally Khan is completely different compared to Papa Bashir and so I had to unlearn what I had learned […] in order to reassess this broken relationship between father and son because it was at a different time and place . "
Khan shared that due to his strong and close emotional relationship with his children, it was difficult to understand why Bashir was unable to share that relationship with his own.
Living according to the motto in life that “aging is inevitable, aging is optional”, Khan regards his children as his “best friends” with whom he shares a mutual understanding of peace and space.
"I was trying to figure out the hurdles Bashir had to overcome in his life, for his struggle to survive, for his question of putting bread on his family table, whatever why he wouldn't have that emotional connection," said Khan . Khan thought of other factors including the problems and difficulties faced by first generation migrants that many people in our lives may relate to as circumstances that forced them to be who they are. "I was privileged not to have led this kind of life. The separation I had to create between these two types of psyche was again quite a challenge."
Despite the differences he had with his character Bashir, Khan played the role naturally. One of the most intriguing scenes in the film is Khan's favorite scene, in which he helps Zed shower. It was amazing to hear the behind-the-scenes effort that went into this portrayal. Khan shared the various perspectives that were taken into account, in addition to the improvisation it takes for the scene to be the masterpiece that it is.
"Mogul Mowgli" behind the scenes with Alyy Khan and Riz Ahmed © Rob Youngson [photo courtesy Pulse Films & BBC]
Vasan also praised Khan and Ahmed's actions and the relationship they represented. She expressed that such a portrayal inspires her as an actress. From a young age, Vasan considered herself a "drama club nerd" and knew she wanted to get into acting, but "always tried to find excuses not to commit". It wasn't because she wasn't passionate about an acting career, but because she wasn't on screen.
"As much as I wanted to be an actor, I felt like I probably couldn't," said Vasan. "Where does an Indian-born brown girl come from, who grew up in Singapore […], where does that fit into the world of acting and definitely not into film or television, I've never thought about that."
Although Vasan loved the field and how "collaborative it was," she encouraged her education and began her acting career until the teachers encouraged her and she moved to the UK.
"I never had a plan," she added. “I just thought I'd keep doing this until I ran out of luck. Because I was convinced that it would stop at some point. "
While Vasan said that her parents always supported her endeavors and broke the stereotypical narrative that "Asian parents don't want their children to go to art," she herself did not see people who looked like them on screen. "I wasn't interested in being a character or being part of something that was too stereotypical for a role you know," she said. She shared that even Tamil cinema, which grew up in a Tamil family, did not feature women with darker skin tones in its industry. According to Vasan, many women have been dubbed in Tamil films and not even Tamil. She noted that the industry "would much rather have a very, very fair-skinned woman play a Tami role than a real Tamil woman," which subconsciously led her to believe that "there is no place for brown women in television and film gives . "
This film broke barriers in all forms. Not only did it focus on a person with an illness who identified himself as a Muslim, but her female characters were not the stereotypical South Asian women that were often portrayed on screen.
“It was cool to play a manager who wasn't a man. When you think of movies about music and characters that the archetype manager is involved in, it's never a woman, it's always like a man in a suit, ”said Vasan.
Your character Vaseem was an angry South Asian woman who tells you what it's like. But Vasan also made a good point in describing such characters. She noted that female roles are often described as "strong or not strong," which takes away "what is going on under the character".
Anjana Vasan is the vaseem in "Mogul Mowgli" [photo courtesy of Pulse Films & BBC]
Bhuchar, who has been an actress for more than 35 years, noted that her character Nasra was also more than just a stereotype or a caring immigrant mother who spoke Urdu. "I love the fact that she is kind of a mother who is like the anchor of this family where there is some kind of fragility in the family between her and her husband and his trauma." She added that as a mother she could be referring to Nasar holding the family together. And as the mother of sons, including one suffering from a serious life-threatening illness, Bhuchar was able to put himself in the shoes of Nasar.
"I had a lot of emotional truths that I carried around with me from this lived experience, you know, even though my son was younger than Zed."
Bhuchar's personal experience as a mother enabled her to improvise scenes well and portray an accurate and realistic relationship with Zed. Bhuchar found it pleasant to switch naturally from one language to another and to use "underutilized creativity". She shared that she has used different languages throughout her career to portray stories of immigrants and while this is not always accepted as the norm, it tells the truth. She shared that her identity is a "big defining trait" in her career that has allowed her to learn who she is and that this film embraces diversity like no other. She touched on an important point: that people often ignore women their age.
“When people look at Asian women my age, they kind of pass you by because they feel like, 'Oh aunt-ji, you know what is she really saying? Indeed, the aunties have a lot to say. "
Sudha Bhuchar is Nasra in "Mogul Mowgli" [photo courtesy Pulse Films & BBC]
When asked what advice they would give to young South Asians following in their footsteps, Tariq, Bhuchar, Khan and Vasan each spoke of believing in yourself, being passionate, and not giving up.
Khan stressed that acting is hard work that shouldn't be taken for granted, but like everything else, education is key. He said that any education in any field is not a waste: "College is precious," he said. Much like any field, he said, you really have to have a passion for acting to pursue it and be "ready for the tough ride."
Vasan noted that while it is great to be grateful, she would tell her younger self and others not to apologize as much as at the beginning of her career and be more ambitious.
“There is no harm in trying, there is no harm in trying, and if you know you want to do this and there is nothing else you would rather do, give it a try. And don't apologize for it. You know, because you may still be enjoying it while you try. "
Bhuchar also spoke of the resilience and strength needed in the creative field, in addition to being one's true self.
"Don't let yourself fall on the agenda, which is not easy … because we are so far from equality and have a level playing field."
Tariq also emphasized a central theme in the film: the importance of family and one's heritage.
“As South Asians, many of us – if you are a working class – also have to provide for your families. This is the culture we come from and I think we should do that. If we have that obligation in our household, whether there is a sick family member or an obligation that we feel is a burden, we shouldn't consider it a burden, we should see that it is a gift, ”Tariq said. “I think the family structures we come from are a privilege and that there is something really beautiful about this service. I believe there is a growth in this service that you shouldn't be worried about. "
He went on to say that we are often tough on ourselves and compare our performance with others.
“It's a common thing in our culture where we're constantly being compared to our peers. Our parents do this to us. I feel like we really put that noise aside and learn about ourselves and learn what moves us is so important. "
Tariq ended by reminding us that "we all have our own ways" and the importance of success differs from person to person and should not be compared. "We look at our colleagues and sometimes we feel that we are not doing enough, but you are enough, you just have to find out what is right for you," said Tariq. He added that he believed that the best way to measure success is with things that you can control. “And you can really control some things, like your temperament, your health, your relationships – these are really the things that you are in control of and that you can easily measure success based on those things. "
Of course, Vasan, Bhuchar and Khan work as brilliant talents on new projects. Tariq, on the other hand, has the biggest directorial assignment of all time to do during this pandemic: homeschooling his children.
"Mogul Mowgli" is now playing in selected cinemas.