Did Riz Ahmed exploit a Pakistani wrestler who featured in his music video?

Did Riz Ahmed exploit a Pakistani wrestler who featured in his music video?

A dubious contract, unfair compensation and denial that he even met Rashid Pehlwan, who appears in Mogambo's music video
04 Dec, 2019

Remember when British-Pakistani rapper/actor Riz Ahmed was in town for Lahore Literary Festival and then did a bunch of other stuff while he was here?

Yeah, well, one of those things was apparently exploiting a wrestler from Lahore.

According to a Twitter thread by Awais Khalid, a research associate, Ahmed exploited the labour of a man who appeared in the music video for his single, 'Mogambo' that came out in October last year.

"Rashid Pehlwan (pictured on this album cover) played a significant role in the music video, but he was not fairly compensated for his time and was instead made to sign a questionable contract AFTER the shoot," wrote Khalid.

A still from the music video.
A still from the music video.

Going by the contract, Rashid was initially filmed for the documentary The Picture. The dubious agreement also allows the use of Rashid's audio and visuals for anything else that Bassam Tariq (director) and Ahmed decide so they went ahead and used it extensively for Mogambo's music video.

Awais, who met Rashid in February 2019 while conducting research on pehlwans in Lahore shared that Rashid confided in him about a group of 'goray' who had done a photoshoot with him but had forgotten to ask for his consent.

Awais continued, "A few weeks after the shoot, Rashid received a call from someone from their team called Asha who asked Rashid for his consent. Rashid realised that these photos were going to be used for a much bigger project than he envisioned and asked for monetary compensation."

"Rashid says that they were taken aback by Rashid's demand of 100,000 rupees (roughly 1000 USD back then) and started to bargain with him. They asked Rashid to accept 15,000 rupees (150 USD) and promised him that they were going to come back and give him another 40-45,000 later."

Rashid didn't remember their names but did recall a guy who went by the name Riz which is when the dots started to connect for Awais.

Shockingly, Rashid had never even seen the video that featured him so prominently; apparently no one from Ahmed's team shared it with him or responded to his requests to send him the photos they had taken of him.

Awais wrote that "The purpose of this thread is to point out the structural injustices that exist even in the 'art' that is meant to be countering popular discourse. Deciding not to fairly compensate Rashid/not showing him the video that thousands have already seen is only one form of injustice," adding that it's also to "point out how celebrities who have built their reputation around fostering inclusive spaces (read: multiculturalism) are not immune from exclusive practices themselves i.e stripping Rashid's agency from the process."

He clarifies that although he's unsure whether Riz made these decisions, he needs to be held accountable when "someone whose labour he has probably already monetised isn't fairly compensated for their blood and sweat".

It doesn't help matters that when Ahmed appeared on Jimmy Kimmel's talk show and spoke about the song, he said he wished he knew who these guys were; Rashid says they met and spent an entire day together, something Ahmed had also previously shared on his Instagram account.

Disappointed but not surprised, it seems like Riz Ahmed needs to put his money where his mouth is.

As Khalid shared, "Rashid is a full-time Pehlwan and with the decline of the popularity of the sport, he struggles to make ends meet on the minimum wage he earns playing for department teams."

It's not okay to strong-arm someone from a lower socioeconomic class who could have had no idea how profitable his labour was going to be for you. Awais has been trying to get in touch with the Venom actor but to no avail nor has Ahmed commented on the matter. Here's hoping this is rectified soon and Rashid is compensated for the work he's already done.

You can read Awais' complete thread here.