Baddiel courts controversy with film about 'Muslim Jew'

Comedian says his cinema debut will tackle material until now regarded as off-limits

It is a film about a British Muslim who, in a matter of minutes, discovers he was adopted and also that he was born Jewish. But far from being a straight-faced character study, The Infidel is being billed as an irreverent comedy which seems guaranteed to offend members of both religions.

David Baddiel – the comedian best known for his blokey collaborations with Frank Skinner – has written the script, which is littered with jokes deliberately poking fun at both the Islamic and Jewish faiths.

As someone with Jewish roots, Baddiel, 45, says he was compelled to tackle the potentially thorny area in his first feature-length film because he wanted to provide an antidote to today's hypersensitive society. He says he has taken a "gloves-off" approach to the subject matter, and is hoping that his audiences will "get the joke".

"I wasn't interested in writing about Muslims and Jews per se, but I am always interested in tackling subjects that aren't being tackled, just for the sake of newness," he told The Independent. "Because people have become terrified of giving offence, religion and race are now rather left out of comedy.

"For me, it becomes fertile ground. It's very much about race and culture and ethnicity, in a very gloves-off way. But it's not trying to cause offence: I'm very uninterested in that as a writer."

The film, which stars Omid Djalili, the actor and comedian of Iranian descent, is due to be released in April. Djalili plays Mahmud, a relaxed, modern-day British Muslim. He discovers he was in fact born to Jewish parents, who named him Solly Shimshillewitz, whereupon he tumbles into a full-scale identity crisis.

He turns to his friend, Lenny, a drunken Jewish cab-driver, for lessons in Jewishness. These start with tips on how to dance like Topol, the Israeli performer of Fiddler on the Roof fame, as some of the film's jokes play on racial stereotypes – a feature that Baddiel insisted was not intended to cause offence. In another scene, Mahmud asks Lenny: "A Buddhist Jew? How does that work?" To which Lenny replies: "Believes you should renounce all your possessions, but still keep the receipts." Later a Muslim character, Rashid, says of his fiancée: "Well, obviously she's really happy about being forced to go to Waziristan, where women of her age have to wear a muzzle if they've still got a clitoris."

Baddiel said he drew on his own experiences of mistaken identity, when, starting out in comedy, he was often mistaken for a British Pakistani.

"The idea comes from a very simple premise, which is that Jews and Muslims often look alike. Omid Djalili could be either," he said. "I thought it might be funny and interesting if I could come up with a 'body-swap' idea, where one person lives, as it were, both lives.

"We now live in a time where those two cultures are seen – somewhat erroneously – as polarised, so it fits well with a body-swap theme. If it was a kids' movie, it would be about a cat that finds out it was born a dog, and after much comic trouble, ends up realising that dogs and cats aren't that different after all," Baddiel added.

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick