THE INFIDEL ***** An intelligent probing of cultural diversity that is funny, insightful and highly entertaining. In an age where humanity is stripped of its identity, Infidel holds up a mirror that allows us to redefine our cultural heritage and laugh at the differences that separate without insult or nasty infliction. It will turn your frown upside down and open your eyes to the world around you.
An original screenplay by David Baddiel and directed by Josh Appignanesi (Song of Songs, Ex Memoria), THE INFIDEL is a timely, irreverent, comedy centred on Mahmud Nasir, a loving husband,doting father, and something of a 'relaxed' Muslim who discovers that he's adopted - and Jewish.
Baddiel wrote the script for British-Iranian actor and comedian - Omid Djalili (The Mummy, Gladiator and BBC's 'The Omid Djalili Show') who plays our culturally confused hero, Mahmud.
David Baddiel, also a former stand-up comedian, is best known for his television shows 'The Mary Whitehouse Experience' and 'Fantasy Football League'. He is also a successful novelist with bestselling
titles including Time for Bed, Whatever Love Means and The Secret Purposes and a regular columnist for Esquire, Psychologies and The Times. THE INFIDEL is his first feature.
Omid Djalili's comedy career spans two decades, performing stand-up across the globe. Referring to himself as the "perfect ethnic everyman bit-part specialist", Djalili has become a familiar face in big budget Hollywood.
THE INFIDEL also stars Emmy award winner Richard Schiff (The West Wing's "Toby", I Am Sam) playing Jewish cabbie Lenny, Igal Naor (Greenzone, Munich, Rendition, Saddam Hussein in HBO's 'House of Saddam') as fanatical Muslim cleric Arshad Al-Masri and Archie Panjabi (A Mighty Heart, The Constant Gardener) as Saamiya, Mahmud's long-suffering wife. The cast includes cameos from Matt Lucas ('Little Britain'), David Schneider ('Alan Partridge'), Miranda Hart from hit comedy 'Miranda' and Paul Kaye (actor and Dennis Pennis creator).
The team behind THE INFIDEL - those who shaped the story and made the film - are from Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Atheist, Buddhist and Bahai' backgrounds. Producers Arvind Ethan David (CEO and Producer, Slingshot) and Uzma Hasan (Development Producer, Slingshot) worked closely with writer David Baddiel since he first conceived the idea for THE INFIDEL making sure that it celebrates religious diversity whilst deriding the 'Fatwa Fanatics' that have so often hijacked the headlines.
SYNOPSIS: A COMEDY OF ETHNIC PROPORTIONS!
Meet MAHMUD NASIR (Omid Djalili), loving husband, doting father and something of a "relaxed" Muslim.
Does the "F" word occasionally pass his lips? It's hardly worth mentioning. Does he say his prayers five times a day? Of course! Well, usually… Does he fast every day of Ramadan? Who's counting anyway?
He may not be the most observant, but in his heart he is as Muslim as it gets. But after his mother's death a discovery turns Mahmud's world upside down. He finds his birth certificate which reveals that not only was he adopted at birth…but he's Jewish, and his real name is Solly Shimshillewitz! As Mahmud tumbles headlong into a full scale identity crisis, the only person he can turn to is LENNY (Richard Schiff), a drunken Jewish cabbie who agrees to give him lessons in Jewishness, which start with how to dance like Topol. Oy vey.
DAVID BADDIEL - WRITER
"I wrote THE INFIDEL for three reasons…
1. I've always been a fan of life-swap comedy (Big, Trading Places etc)
2. I think that people are terrified about race and religion, especially issues surrounding Muslims and Jews, and when people are terrified, what they really should do is laugh, and…
3. I love Omid Djalili and his big funny face. I'm hoping that people recognise that underneath the comedy, the message of the film is one of mutual tolerance: if not, I'm hoping to find a new identity."
David is a comedian, novelist, columnist and screenwriter. He first found fame in the UK in the early '90s, for the BBC radio and TV series, 'The Mary Whitehouse Experience'. Since then his TV shows have included 'Newman and Baddiel in Pieces', 'Fantasy Football League' and 'Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned'.
With Rob Newman, in 1993, he became the first comedian to play Wembley Arena. With Frank Skinner and The Lightning Seeds, he had a three-time No. 1 Single with the song, Three Lions.
He has written three novels, Time for Bed, Whatever Love Means and The Secret Purposes.
Most recently, he created and hosted a Radio 4 comedy discussion programme, 'Heresy', and in November 2007, BBC1 screened his documentary, 'Baddiel and The Missing Nazi Billions.' David regularly writes for The Times, Esquire and Psychologies magazine.
JOSH APPIGNANESI - DIRECTOR
"I originally became involved as a script editor and fell in love with the boldness of David's story. The idea of using a high-concept identityswap comedy to address one of the hottest topics of our time was something I couldn't pass up. So, together with Omid, we created this kind of Muslim Homer Simpson: an everyman who happens to be a Muslim who happens to be a Jew. The Infidel's full of synergies - of different identities, styles, and filmmaking approaches. I think those collisionsa and collusions have made it something unique."
Josh's debut feature Song of Songs starred Natalie Press (My Summer of Love, Red Road). International festival success included a special commendation at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Distributed by Soda Pictures, it was received with critical acclaim in the UK press.
"It's a cinematic milestone… it has a challenging, unashamedly intellectual rigour to it. There's a beguiling central performance from Natalie Press. Song of Songs confirms her as a star. Appignanesi writes and directs with impressive intelligence, explaining little but building tension and layers of extreme emotion using microscopically intense, handheld camera…In both style and content, the film reveals a distinctive and bold new voice in British cinema." Jason Solomons, THE OBSERVER
"Ambitious and mysterious… The film offers some powerful scenes, and strong performances from
Press and Chalfen… Appignanesi is a talent to watch." Dave Calhoun, TIME OUT
Previous works include several award-winning short films such as BBC Talent winner Nine ½ Minutes starring David Tennant ('Doctor Who'), and Wellcome Trust funded, BIFA-nominated Ex Memoria with Sara Kestelman. Josh also founded a post-production company which edited Emmy and BAFTA-award winning political documentaries.
OMID DJALILI - MAHMUD NASIR
"Mahmud is a second generation Pakistani Muslim. He's fat, he likes his football. He's someone who's very masculine and very London and very much a bloke, but he happens to be a Pakistani Muslim though he's not particularly devout or well versed. He feels as British as everyone else but he just happens to have a specific background but then you find out that this background is not hereditary."
Omid is a multi award winning comedian and actor whose international career spans across TV, feature films and the stage.
His hugely popular series for BBC1, 'The Omid Djalili Show' has aired its second series with viewing figures hitting a high of 3.1m and his most recent live national tour was a critically acclaimed sell out success. Omid's feature film roles include THE MUMMY, GLADIATOR, CASANOVA and GROW YOUR OWN. His most memorable TV role was co-starring opposite Whoopi Goldberg in her sitcom 'Whoopi'.
Omid became an Edinburgh Festival favourite in the early nineties with a one-man theatre piece and a string of sell-out comedy shows including 'Short Fat Kebab Shop Owner's Son', 'Arab & The Jew', 'The Iranian Ceilidh' with Kamal Mazlumi and the critically acclaimed 'Behind Enemy Lines' in 2002 which received six 5-star reviews.
In 2005, he performed his most successful show, 'No Agenda', with record breaking sales on the Fringe totalling 16,500; this show then transferred to a sell-out nationwide 40 date tour, including 2 shows at the London Palladium in 2006. He has also recorded an HBO special in New York, the first British comic to do so since Eddie Izzard.
He has performed across the globe from Monte Carlo to Qatar for the Emir where he shared a stage with Bill Clinton.
RICHARD SCHIFF - LENNY
"Lenny's not quite as good looking as I am. He's also shorter and has a bigger belly but he's a London black cabbie who happens to be a yank."
Primetime Emmy award winning Richard Schiff is best known for his role as the acerbic Toby Ziegler in NBC's THE WEST WING. He has been nominated for SAG awards 6 times for his role - winning twice.
His incredible body of feature film work includes Taylor Hackford's Oscar winning RAY, alongside Sean Penn in I AM SAM, as well as Hollywood blockbusters such as DEEP IMPACT and LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK.
Q&A INTERVIEW: FROM SCRIPT TO SCREEN
The premise of THE INFIDEL, a Muslim finding out he was adopted and actually born Jewish, came from the pen of writer/comedian David Baddiel.
DAVID BADDIEL: "I don't know whether I had the idea and went to see Omid's show or I was watching Omid and thought of the idea as I saw him, because in my mind now I think he's intrinsic to my having the idea." It was not only the actor's physical presence, but the way with which Djalili tackled material about race and religion that inspired Baddiel to write THE INFIDEL and bring to life this extraordinary story.
ARVIND ETHAN DAVID (Producer): "I was having breakfast with Morwenna Banks (who is David Baddiel's girlfriend) and we were talking about some of her film ideas when suddenly David bursts in, introduces himself, sits down and says, 'I just want to tell Arvind this one idea: what if Omid Djalili plays a Muslim who discovers he's a Jew?' And I said, yes, we'll do that movie.
We had a certain amount of scepticism to overcome as to whether you were allowed to make a fundamentalist comedy. There were some more conservative distributors who were nervous about that."
UZMA HASAN (Producer): "It was difficult to convince the industry that it was OK to make this kind of movie, that nobody was going to get into trouble for laughing at that stuff."
DAVID BADDIEL: "People are frightened of the material, that it's about race and it's about Islam. People have come along with me on this belief, both at Slingshot (the production company) and elsewhere, that the time is right for there to be a comedy about this."
OMID DJALILI: "THE INFIDEL captures so much of what I want to say about race and religion. A great deal has been made in the political realm to 'tolerate' and to 'live side by side' whereas to highlight absurdities and to laugh at similarities as well as differences is possibly a more meaningful way to go. Everyone has a slightly older and more sensible friend to look up to at school, and in comedy I think that role in my life has been filled by David Baddiel. I've always wanted to write a film like THE INFIDEL but it took my more intelligent and capable friend to do it for me. It's an interesting partnership, I bring the funny to the table and he brings the intelligent and the funny. Thus Baddiel wins. It's not fair. Jews so control the media."
ARCHIE PANJABI (Saamiya Nasir): "I thought it was a brilliant script. The characters were really good, the story made me laugh and I got a good gut instinct about the whole project. I really liked the character as well. I was really keen not to make her into a stereotype because I think a lot of the time Asian women, particularly once they have kids, are always conveyed in this very stereotyped way. So I thought it was quite challenging to play a role that was fun but would represent what real Asian women are about."
ARVIND ETHAN DAVID (Producer): "The response was extraordinary. I think it's become the best selling independently made British comedy of recent years."
FINDING THE DIRECTOR
By sheer fortune, writer David Baddiel and director Josh Appignanesi live in the same road and a chance conversation between the two led to Appignanesi reading the script with a view to acting as script editor.
DAVID BADDIEL: "He wrote some brilliant notes on it. Some of the best notes I've ever got for anything I've ever written and he knows a lot about cinema and narrative and structure so at that point I wanted to bring him in as script editor. I didn't want this movie to feel like a conventional Brit com. I wanted it to feel like an American indie movie, if anything like Juno or Little Miss Sunshine. To get that, I thought to use a director with some knowledge of the history of cinema who could give it that feel visually. I thought he could do that."
UZMA HASAN (Producer): "Josh is such an energetic and effervescent guy and understands cinema in a way that I don't think I've ever encountered before. He understood the mechanics of this story and how not to speak down to people, to make this an intelligent comedy."
ON OMID DJALILI
JOSH APPIGNANESI (Director): "Omid is not only brilliant but he's also the biggest supporter of the film. No other actor could do what this role requires. The only difficult thing was making him less funny sometimes."
ARVIND ETHAN DAVID (Producer): "I've been a fan of Omid for at least 10 years since he started his stand-up career and I always thought he'd be a brilliant actor given the right lead role. An interesting thing about British cinema is that we've yet to have an Asian everyman. A guy who happens to be brown but is an everyman for an audience of every stripe, colour, creed and religion and Omid is the quintessential everyman. He's a funny guy whose funniness is partly laughing at him and partly laughing with him."
JOSH APPIGNANESI (Director): "I wanted to surround Omid with character actors so we'd have a mix of acting styles. It's all comedy but they'd bring a reality, kind of bed down the bigness that Omid has, in narrative reality so it doesn't become a sketch show."
THE SEARCH FOR LENNY…
DAVID BADDIEL: "We were struggling for Lenny to be honest. There isn't really a 50-something British actor who is convincingly Jewish and we were thinking that we'll just have to audition for this part."
ARVIND ETHAN DAVID (Producer): "The part as written was English, but we could not think of a 50-something irascible dead pan explicitly Jewish British film actor. It's a surprisingly short list because Britain doesn't have this tradition of Jewish comedy that America does. We had this moment of lets think about Americans and the second we did that, Richard's (Schiff) name came to mind. Richard is a delight. Putting him and Omid next to each other creates a clash of comic styles, bringing different acting styles together. They are this comedy powerhouse."
DAVID BADDIEL: "I now can't think of anyone else playing that part. I hadn't written it American but I really like it American. I mean Richard's done so much with them but the lines appear to be written for an American voice to me. He's so brilliant at delivering that stuff."
RICHARD SCHIFF (Lenny): "The script was dealing with a subject matter than deserves to be made fun with, namely the religious separation people impose on each other and it has real heart to it. The relationship between Mahmud and Lenny was one I found compelling to read and I looked forward to doing it."
The cast includes cameos from Paul Kaye, actor and Dennis Pennis creator, David Schneider, from the popular 'Alan Partridge' series, Matt Lucas from 'Little Britain' and Miranda Hart from hit comedy 'Miranda.'
UZMA HASAN (Producer): "We have such an amazing mix of people. It's a great family that we put together."
THE LOOK AND FEEL OF THE INFIDEL
JOSH APPIGNANESI (Director): "It's lit in what I would call an art house kind of realism, a soft sort of light that usually evokes drama. I wanted long takes, wide shots that allow the comedy to develop between the actors. It doesn't cut back and forth like a mainstream comedy so there's more of a sense of being there. It doesn't tell the audience when to laugh but it allows you to see the genuine comic performances unfolding. And then stylistically, the flatness, that graphic quality of framing that kind of starts with Hal Ashby in the 70's and then through to recent American indie Jarmusch and onwards that gives you a kind of frame or distance that can be a cartooniness."
ERIK REHL (Production Designer): "We decided to focus on what was really important, the colours and textures for the different Muslim elements and locations and homes and the Jewish side and Josh had very particular ideas about that and we spoke a lot. I did a lot of research and came up with images and I did a lot of film referencing as well, Woody Allen to films like Rushmore, even a bit of Bergman thrown in for good measure. So you're looking at references of references and how they've been incorporated into comedies.
The greens and oranges were Muslim and the blues, silvers and obviously a splash of yellow would be for the Jewish cultural references and worlds as it were."
OMID DJALILI: "When David and I spoke about this, we wanted a mainstream comedy that would have an indie feel to it and I think that's what Josh has done. Without being too arty, I think that he's captured something that will raise it above your normal British comedy. The biggest challenge was to keep the characters truthful because there's always a tendency to go for something really funny, to go for a gag or something that you know will get a big laugh. There's lots of physical slapstick humour but I wanted this to be a movie where people would laugh because it's so truthful and we were trying to go for a real super realism."
ARCHIE PANJABI (Saamiya Nasir): "The biggest challenge is making it all work, making it seem very funny but also human at the same time. It's a very funny story but I think it's quite touching as well. I think the best comedy films are the ones that take you on a rollercoaster. They make you laugh but they also make you cry.
DAVID BADDIEL: "One interesting point from a writer's point of view is that originally I thought that to get maximum force from the character of Mahmud not being a Muslim all his life and being a Jew, you have to make him a really prominent, proper, solid Muslim. But then I thought, that I want the audience to identify with him and he can feel his Muslimness very powerfully without necessarily being that kind of important religious figure. I'm really pleased we found our way towards that because I think it would have been a duller movie if it was about a prominent, important Muslim."
ARVIND ETHAN DAVID (Producer): "This is not a message movie, this is not a cause movie and I think that's important because if you set out to make a cause movie, you forget your primary obligation to your audience which is to entertain them." I think Josh (director) has the ability to draw out amazing performances where it be from Omid as a comedian or myself who usually does a lot of straight acting roles, more serious stuff. I think he's got an eye for comedy as well as making it quite real and human."
A FILM OF ETHNIC PROPORTIONS
OMID DJALILI: "It was a film that had to be made."
DAVID BADDIEL: "I felt there was something in the idea of a body swap movie and on some level, that's what I think the movie is. A lot of people will take this movie as being a massive culture clash but for me, it's a body swap movie like Trading Places or Big. If it was a kid's movie, it would be about a cat that discovered it was born a dog." Read more
MUSIC The film's score is written by Erran Baron-Cohen, brother of Sacha, who's previous work includes Borat and Bruno. With David Baddiel, he also wrote a song, 'This Confusion', which can be heard over the end credits; the song is based on various musical themes present in the score. Read more
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