The new Bill Murray big screen comedy "Rock the Kasbah" may not be getting the best reviews, but some members of its cast are still hailing it as a potential new "beginning" in terms of how Hollywood portrays people from the Middle East.
In the film, Murray plays Richie Lanz, an aging, washed-up music promoter who gets stranded in Afghanistan after an ill-fated attempt at mounting a USO tour in the war-torn country. Eventually Lanz discovers a talented young female Afghan singer who he helps secure a spot on an "American Idol"-like reality TV competition called "Afghan Star." The move breaks with cultural traditions and sparks controversy.
"Rock the Kasbah" is inspired by a true story — Setara Hussainzada drew international attention in 2007 after removing her hijab and dancing during an episode of "Afghan Star." The uproar caused by her appearance led to death threats and she was forced to live in exile. But the big screen version of the events has a much more optimistic tone and perspective.
"What I loved about that script is that is very humanistic, it does have a political side and it is a comedy, but when it talks about human beings, it doesn’t matter where they come from or where they are helping each other reach what they want," actress Leem Lubany, who plays the rising star singer in the movie, told MSNBC.
In addition to recognizable faces like Murray, Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel and Bruce Willis, "Rock the Kasbah" also stars two actors with Afghan roots, Fahim Fazli and Sameer Ali Khan. For these two performers, the movie represents an opportunity to gain more exposure and to show what they call "the other side of Afghanistan."
"There might be hundreds of movies made on Afghanistan, they always show the war, the bullets, the terrorists," Ali Khan told MSNBC. "[In "Rock the Kasbah"] you see emotions, you see love, you see affection."
Fazli echoed similar sentiments. "I’ve been in like 70-75 TV, movies. Always been terrorist. This is my first one I am not a terrorist, I’m a father. This movie has a message for Americans and Middle Easterners — we are not terrorists," he added.
Both actors describe being typecast, looked at suspiciously when they travel to the U.S. and even in Ali Khan's case even being asked if they "know Osama." And yet, both remain optimistic that their most recent foray into Hollywood will be a "new platform" allowing them to be viewed in a more positive light.
Their secret weapon — the legendary Bill Murray, whom Fazli calls affectionately "the king of Hollywood."
"This guy has a sense of humor, this guy has a good heart," said Fazli about working alongside the veteran star. Lubany, who shares the most screen-time with Murray, describes him as being "a wonderful human being and such a humble soul."
"I looked into his eyes and there was this click between us," she added about performing in a scene with Murray.
"Rock the Kashbah," which is directed by Oscar-winner Barry Levinson, opens in theaters nationwide on Friday.