Novelist Khaled Hosseini's international best-seller set in 1970s Afghanistan and present-day America has been made into a Hollywood studio movie. Alan Silverman spoke with the author and cast members for this look at "The Kite Runner:"
Afghan-born Amir is a newly-published author living in California; but the telephone call from an old family friend takes him back to his childhood in 1970s Kabul. There are happy memories of the time before the city was ravaged by battles with Soviet forces and the subsequent Taliban takeover: happy memories of children flying colorful kites high over the city rooftops.
"Amir, I am going to run that blue kite for you," says his dearest childhood friend Hassan. As Hassan begins his dash through the streets to chase the falling kite, he turns to Amir and says "for you, a thousand times over." It is a fateful day that will change both of their lives forever: Amir, the son of a wealthy intellectual and Hassan, the child of their housekeeper.
The Kite Runner is a adapted from the novel published in 2003 and author Khaled Hosseini says the kites are more about memory than metaphor.
"To me, it is just a symbol of my childhood. I grew up flying kites in Kabul. That's what I did. That's what my brother and my cousins ...we all did. In fact, the kite came before anything else, even before the characters," Hosseini says. "Everybody who reads fiction will see their own things. There is no right or wrong answer, but for me they will always represent that bygone, much more innocent era in Afghanistan and to me they are kind of these harbingers of hope in the story.
Innocence is lost when young Hassan, running after the kite, is cornered and brutally raped by neighborhood bullies as Amir cowers nearby - unable, or unwilling, to help his loyal friend. The emotionally wrenching scene, although not shown in graphic detail, nevertheless caused the father of the Afghan child actor who plays Hassan to worry, publicly, that its showing could put them in danger. The Paramount subsidiary DreamWorks, the American studio that financed the film, postponed its release date for a month so children and their families could be moved to a safe location. Author Hosseini says the controversial scene could not be cut.
"That scene is pivotal to the story. I didn't see any other way," he says. "From a plot standpoint, that scene is important because that is when Amir is seared for life; and ultimately the film is not about that. It is about friendship, forgiveness, redemption, regret. I think the film, seen in its entirety, is not at all about sexual abuse and that sort of thing.
Khalid Abdalla stars as adult Amir. The British-born actor, whose parents are Egyptian, learned to speak Dari for the role and says the relationships in The Kite Runner cross cultural lines.
"To me it feels like a normal, troubled relationship between a father and son," he said. "In fact, I think one of the reasons that the story is so affecting is because there is a journey in it that so many people recognize: that desire to have your father be proud of you."
While political upheaval provides the backdrop and drives some aspects of the story, Iranian screen star Homayoun Ershadi, who plays the intellectual and coldly distant father, considers it a universal story.
"No, it is not a political film at all," he says. "I think it is about a family and, regardless of what culture you have or what religion you have, it is international. You talk about love, redemption, hate, guilt ...these things are international subjects."
Author Khaled Hosseini hopes it can help provide an emotional connection across cultural and political lines ...and he sees the film as a significant advance in how Hollywood portrays Muslims.
"One of the things that I'm very proud of in 'The Kite Runner' is that it's a film populated entirely by Muslim characters and whose faith is almost incidental to their existence," he said. "They are in the film and don't feel represented by the likes of him. I think it's a very important thing [and] for Hollywood it's really a first. I can't remember the last time a mainstream Hollywood film made up entirely of Muslim characters and had this kind of message, where the reason they exist is not terrorism, not radical beliefs or violence and fanaticism, but they are just people."
Director Marc Forster insisted on making the film almost entirely in the Dari language of Afghanistan. Hosseini, who wrote the novel in English, applauds the director's choice.
"This would have been a completely different movie if you have these characters speaking in English," he said. "I think part of the reason this film is going to connect with people is that you see these characters speaking their indigenous language and it really has the ability to transport you to that world of 1970s Afghanistan ...and you believe it."
"It is better to forget" says the driver and guide to Amir, who has returned to Kabul. Amir responds: "I don't want to forget anymore."
The Kite Runner features many Afghani actors, but was filmed in and around Kashgar in Western China's Xinjiang province that borders Afghanistan. The script, adapted from the novel, is by American screenwriter David Benioff. The soundtrack music is by Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias.