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BERLINALE 2020 Panorama

Bassam Tariq • Director of Mogul Mowgli

"Dark humour and things that are quite black are really exciting for me"


- BERLINALE 2020: We chatted to Bassam Tariq about his new effort Mogul Mowgli, working with Riz Ahmed and imbuing the film with black humour

Bassam Tariq  • Director of Mogul Mowgli

Bassam Tariq's Mogul Mowgli [+see also:
film review
interview: Bassam Tariq
film profile
is the tale of a Pakistani musician struggling with his ambition and heritage, who gets struck down by an autoimmune disease. The drama world-premiered in the Panorama strand of the 70th Berlinale. Cineuropa chatted to Tariq about working with star Riz Ahmed and imbuing the film with black humour.

Cineuropa: How did Mogul Mowgli first come about?
Bassam Tariq:
Riz Ahmed saw my first film, These Birds Walk, and we were keen on working together and became friends. It was 2015 or thereabouts, and he was working on The Night Of. After I had made my first film, I wasn't sure where I wanted to be, so I started up a butchery in New York. Riz and I started talking about this possible collaboration. At the same time, his career really began taking off, which was exciting. So I started looking into film again and seeing how I could possibly make my way back into this. We felt this urgency, and we both knew we had this common heritage that we wanted to talk about.

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How did your writing collaboration work, given that you live in different cities?
I started going to London to do some research and met his family – you know, his family mirrors my family so much, and the experiences that I’ve had. That was the beginning of it. For me, it was quite fluid; we just kind of found time to work with each other, and we just kept it loose, meeting up wherever and whenever we could. Between us, we found a great rhythm for working together. We kept it loose until we were editing and finding the film together.

Mogul Mowgli has a lot of dark humour; where did this come from?
I was reading a lot of Saadat Hasan Manto, who was this short-story writer in Pakistan right after the Partition; he wrote some incredible short stories dealing with the Partition. His writing is quite sparse and hilarious. Well, at least I found him to be quite funny. One thing that I realised was that dark humour and things that are quite black are really exciting for me – and for Riz – and we wanted to make sure that that was thrown into the mix.

How did you try to highlight the feeling of double consciousness in the conundrums faced by Riz's character, Zed?
The film is both internal, reflecting his state of mind, and external because things happen to him. The illness represents the state of mind that he gets into. We see his conversations, and what happens externally represents his inner dilemmas. With his double consciousness, we also see his imaginings of figures – he’s almost being haunted by them. There is a dream aspect to it as well.

You bring a lot of original insights in terms of living life as a second-generation Pakistani in the West; what were your intentions?
My intention was to try my best to please my brother and my really close South Asian friends. We try for a lot of things, and some of it succeeds and some of it doesn't. You have to be willing to take those creative risks.

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