Omid Djalili, Richard Schiff, Archie Panjabi, Igal Naor, Amit Shah
The 2010 Tribeca Film Festival was the channel for The Infidel’s international premiere last Sunday. Inclement weather did not deter at least two A-list celebs, Ben Stiller and Denis Leary, from turning out to join the line of Joe Six-Packs crowding the theater. Director Josh Appignanesi, writer and British comedian David Baddiel, the film’s leading man Omid Djalili and other filmmakers were also in attendance and engaged the crowd before and after the screening.
A comedy of errors, The Infidel revolves around Mahmud Nasir, played with jolly buffoonery by Djalili, a Pakistani-British man who learns he is Jewish by “birth” and not the true upstanding Muslim that his son Rashid (Amit Shah) needs him to be. The man, now formerly known as Solly Shimshillewitz, is sandwiched in a religious crisis as he tries to discover Jewish culture so he can meet his orthodox father while also observing proper Islamic practices to appeal to Rashid’s potential father-in-law, fervent cleric Arshad El Masri (Igal Naor).
Nasir enlists the help of Jewish-American émigré, Lenny Goldstein ( Richard Schiff), to try and learn Judaism. The farcical studies that follow include dancing to Fiddler on the Roof, practicing stereotypical Jewish shrugs, pronouncing “oy”, and attending a bar mitzvah. On the flip side, he attempts to maintain this secret from his wife, Saamiya (Archie Panjabi), his children, and El Masri’s entourage as he goes about his work as a cabbie while enjoying his ‘80s music idol, the iconic Gary Page.
Many times absurd, The Infidel sustains laughter throughout, avoids political correctness, and steers deliberately into a potential minefield of religious controversy. In his introduction, Baddiel jested that the distributor blindly took on the movie: when he proffered “funny, feel good and fatwa-free” as a potential subtitle, the distributor responded, “what’s a fatwa?”
Afterwards, during the Q&A, Baddiel acknowledged he took the inspiration for one distinctive follower of El Masri (bearing a hook for a hand), from British Sunni activist Abu Hamza al Masri, aka “The Hook”. Elaborating, he said the caricature was actually toned down since the real individual has other notable physical characteristics. When asked how the American audience compared to the British one, Baddiel remarked that there were noticeable gasps during one part of Nasir’s dream sequence and that some of the “local color” of British humor got lost but overall he came across pleased with the response.
The Infidel is likely to be a crowd pleaser, whatever the viewer’s religion might be. Though it touches on sensitive topics, its play on stereotypes is doled out in fair and balanced portions provoking laughter scene after scene.
Director Josh Appignanesi