November 10, 2020 7:33:13 pm
British-Pakistani actor and rapper Riz Ahmed says he counts late actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Irrfan Khan as his inspirations in life.
Ahmed, known for shows like The Night Of and films such as Nightcrawler, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Venom, conducted a Q&A session on Twitter on Monday for his recently released film Mogul Mowgli. The film marks the feature directorial debut of Bassam Tariq, who co-helmed Sundance-funded documentary These Birds Walk in 2013.
Mogul Mowgli follows Zed (Ahmed), a British-Pakistani rapper who is struck by an autoimmune disease at the peak of his career. Asked which performances have inspired him over the years, the Emmy winner said, “Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Irrfan Khan in everything.”
Hoffman was one of the most admired Hollywood actors courtesy performances in films like Scent of a Woman, Talented Mr Ripley, Almost Famous and Capote. He died in 2014 from combined drug intoxication.
Khan, who straddled both Indian and international cinema with equal elan, died in April following a two year-long battle with a rare form of cancer. His filmography includes gems like The Warrior, Maqbool, The Lunchbox, Piku, and The Namesake. At the time of Khan’s death, Ahmed had described him as “one of the greatest actors of our time”.
“I never met him but he was an inspiration and a hero to me and millions of others. His work was consistently transcendent, he was a guiding light for so many of us,” he had tweeted.
Asked how difficult or easy is it to play a character similar to one in some ways, the 37-year-old actor said he is trying to embrace such characters now. “It is more exposing but also forces you to go to difficult places. Usually those challenging personal places are where you end up being most creative.”
Ahmed also said the team toured South Asia to bring out the authenticity in the film. “Yes, we spent months visiting museums and South Asia to take inspiration from our own artistic heritage – mughal miniatures, tile work, qawalli, sufi spirituality and magical realism. We wanted to find our own visual language for our stories,” Ahmed, who has also co-written the film with Tariq, said in a response to a question about how an Asian themed film must look like.
He also recommended the audience to read “Toba Tek Singh”, a short story by Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto, before watching the film. “To me ‘Toba Tek Singh’ reminds us that this feeling of displacement is not a new one. Our ancestors felt it. And they created art about it too, like Manto’s short ‘Toba Tek Singh’ did. It’s about being haunted by the ghosts of the past but also blessed by its spirit.”
Published in 1955, Toba Tek Singh is set in post-Partition Lahore and follows the ongoing quest of belonging of a human being by its titular character. Ahmed noted the gravity of the 1947 Partition is something that people of the Indian subcontinent “don’t discuss enough or fully comprehend”.
“The impact of Partition was world-shaping,” he said, adding the new generation has inherited this “ancestral trauma.” Asked if he had seen any of master director Satyajit Ray’s works, the actor said he had watched 1963’s Mahanagar (The Big City) and thought it was way ahead of its time from a feminist point of view.
“I need to watch more. I feel like we are taught to revere western artists but are ignorant of our own artistic heritage. That’s also Zed’s journey in the film,” Ahmed added. Based on the short story Abataranika by Narendranath Mitra, Mahanagar tells the story of a housewife who disconcerts her traditionalist family by getting a job as a saleswoman.
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