Flying high

Despite much speculation about its release date, The Kite Runner (2007) managed to reach the screens of several universities, including New York University, San José State University, and Carnegie Mellon. The movie was shown last week in McConomy Auditorium at a screening provided by Allied Advertising to the Student Activities Board.

Directed by Golden Globe-nominee Marc Forster (Finding Neverland), the film is an adaptation of Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini’s first novel, The Kite Runner, published in 2003. The story originates in the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul, Afghanistan, prior to the Soviet Union’s invasion of the country in 1979. Throughout the plot, The Kite Runner encapsulates the past 30 years of sociopolitical turmoil through the eyes of two childhood friends: wealthy Pashtun Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada), his Hazara servant’s son.

In a time of unease between Afghanistan’s ethnic tribes, the dominant Pashtuns and the historically discriminated against Hazaras, Amir and Hassan’s friendship transcends all boundaries of ethnicity. While Amir enjoys every luxury his father, Baba (Homayon Ershadi), can provide — an English education and expensive gifts and parties — Hassan finds happiness in hearing the stories Amir writes. The two escape into the mythical world of their favorite book, Shahnamah, but the fantasy comes to an abrupt end during a kite-flying competition, when Hassan is gang raped by a group of bullies led by Assef (Elham Ehsas), whom he had threatened with his slingshot in an attempt to protect Amir. As a silent witness to Hassan’s trauma, Amir bears the guilt of his cowardice until the day he sees in Sohrab (Ali Dinesh), Hassan’s son, a possibility of redemption.

Though audiences are sometimes disappointed by film adaptations, The Kite Runner succeeds in recreating the novel. But while the film relates closely to the text, it also enables viewers who have not read the novel to comprehend and appreciate the story.

The winning aspect of the film is its closeness to reality. The historical conflict between the Pashtuns and Hazaras is portrayed with accuracy, including physical attributes, dialects spoken, and the social stratum projected. In Afghanistan, the Hazaras are often considered to be racially inferior to the Pashtuns; Hazaras strictly belong to the Shiite sect of Islam and are believed to be the descendents of the armies of Mongolian Emperor Genghis Khan. While portraying the character Hassan, Mahmidzada’s Mongolian features helped him nail the role of the Hazara boy perfectly. Additionally, the film succeeds in depicting the exodus of Afghan refugees to Pakistan and the United States during the Soviet war. In the story, Amir and Baba settle for a modest flat, and Baba works at a petrol station.

The title of the novel and film holds great significance in terms of the kiteflying culture, which was banned under the Taliban regime. The film highlights the Afghan passion for kiteflying through the character Baba, who tells stories of slashing down flying kites as a child to Amir, Hassan, and eventually to Sohrab.

In addition to the poignant tale of Amir and Hassan, entwined with Afghanistan’s sociopolitical chaos following the Soviet invasion, The Kite Runner portrays Afghan heritage and culture in a way unlike most modern media. As Afghanistan has become notorious for the extremist activities of the Taliban and the irrationality of religious pedagogues, these characteristics have become symbolic of the nation, masking anything beyond them.

In his novel, Hosseini helps to dispel this illusion by portraying the freedom and richness of culture that the country once possessed, and the movie does the same. For example, the scene with Amir’s birthday party shows a gathering of men and women dressed in Western clothing, drinking alcohol, and listening to music — all of which became punishable acts when the Taliban took over. Forster shows this later in the scene where a fully cloaked woman is stoned to death by Taliban officials for an alleged affair.

The Kite Runner features some remarkable performances, even from actors playing relatively minor parts, such as the characters of the bus driver and Ali, Hassan’s father. Also outstanding are Ebrahimi and Mahmidzada, debuting as child artists: Ebrahimi skillfully balances Amir’s jealousy and love for Hassan, while Mahmidzada fervently conveys the latter’s unconditional love. Playing the adult Amir, Khalid Abdalla (United 93) combines boyish charm with a manly disposition to portray his character in a well-rounded manner. Additionally, Ershadi depicts Baba’s grandeur and strength, especially when he risks his life to protect the honor of a fellow Afghan man and saves his wife from being assaulted by a Soviet soldier.

Overall, the The Kite Runner is a must-see for those who enjoyed the book, and for those who have not read it. The film succeeds in capturing the novel’s moving content, and Forster’s skilled directing and his cast’s immaculate performances bring the novel to life.