5 Jul 2010

Schiff, Baddiel and Djalili on ‘Infidel’

Can you make a feelgood comedy about Muslims and Jews? For her exclusive report, Samira Ahmed went on the set of the new comedy film The Infidel to find out.

Imagine if Homer Simpson was a Muslim, then found out he was really Jewish. That is the premise behind The Infidel, a British comedy film that’s just finished shooting in London.

Written by comedian David Baddiel, the film stars another stand-up, Omid Djalili and Hollywood actor Richard Schiff, best known as Toby in The West Wing, as a Jewish London cabbie.

A summer’s day in the London suburb of Chingford. West Wing star Richard Schiff, taking a quick cigarette break on the steps of the assembly hall – the first sign that there is something different about this British film shoot.

Inside they are shooting the big wedding scene. Channel 4 News got a very early view of a film in progress.

Unlike previous British Asian themed comedies like East is East or Bend It Like Beckham, The Infidel tackes the tensions around British Islam head-on.

Behind the feelgood comedy, Schiff says he took the part to challenge American attitudes to Islam, exemplified by what John McCain said in defence of Barack Obama during the presidential election campaign.

The film is written by former stand-up comedian, David Baddiel, best known for his television shows The Mary Whitehouse Experience and Fantasy Football League.

Baddiel describes the leading character: “I describe him in the script as a ‘Homer Simpson Muslim’.

“The plot involves his son has just married into a religious family. They need him to be a good Muslim and he’s never really been that.

“I was interested in a body swap movie,” says Baddiel, “a dog who discovers that he was actually born a cat.”

Executive producer and star Omid Djalili’s character, Mahmud, finds out he was adopted and was born Jewish. An interesting coincidence, as the actor is currently in rehearsal to take over as Fagin in Oliver! on the London stage.

Djalili, a stand-up comedian whose BBC comedy series The Omid Djalili Show is now in its second series, has also appeared in The Mummy and Gladiator.

He is now focused on how to play the character Dickens described as “the Jew”. He gave Channel 4 News a brief tour of behind the scenes, and treats the crew to a brief rendition of Fagin’s signature tune…