“The producers of The Kite Runner are proud to be using ordinary Afghan actors. But the filming has aroused controversies they seem to have failed to foresee - on the blurring of fact and fiction in a society very different from California, and on Afghan notions of honour and tribalism.” - Charles Haviland BBC News, Kabul
Based on one of the most acclaimed novels in recent memory, THE KITE RUNNER is a powerful tale of friendship, family, devastating mistakes and redeeming love. In a divided country on the verge of war, two childhood best friends, Amir and Hassan, are about to be torn apart forever. It’s a glorious afternoon in Kabul, and the skies are bursting with the exhilarating joy of an innocent kite-fighting tournament. But in the aftermath of the day’s victory, one boy’s fearful act of betrayal will set in motion a catastrophe ... and an epic quest for redemption. Now, after 20 years of living in America, Amir returns to a perilous Afghanistan under the Taliban’s iron-fisted rule, to face the dark secrets that still haunt him, and take one last daring chance to set things right.
The Best Selling Novel of American-Afghan Expat Khaled Hosseini is also to become a major Hollywood Motion Picture directed by German Marc Forster better known for his critically acclaimed Finding Neverland on the Life and Times at the turn of the 19th century of James Matthew Barrie author of Peter Pan and the children who inspired it. In this previous production Forster proved that he was able to direct children, explore their psychology in a subtle and balanced manner, while dealing with adult issues such as broken marriages, death, adoption and the obscure frontier between imagination and reality. The end result was a formidable film intended to both adults and children alike. This leaves little doubt as to an equally interesting and well directed screen adaptation by Forster of the Afghan Tale of a quest back into one’s childhood.
However, the film has triggered a controversy that most probably has been blown out of proportion but yet is understandable given the cultural gaps and misunderstandings that can appear when trying to show on film, scenes relative to sexuality or crime that can be explained or suggested in writing but are deemed as taboo in a traditional country like Afghanistan all the more if the actors involved are locals whose onscreen persona can be confused for who they are in real life and even threaten their families and friends.
In the case of the Kite Runner, it involves a child rape and molestation scene which is vital to understanding the story (and directly borrowed from the original story) but in no way does it claim to justify this horrendous act. Needless to say that NO filmmaker could film such a scene in a pornographic way without being held accountable by international law. However, in a country, where notions of honour and pride are interweaved with deep religious convictions and where women are still widely subject to wearing the Burka, ever since the Talibans have been involved in the countries political rivalries, it is not a surprise that such a scene, however discreet and non-gratuitous, can still shock and frighten. It is nevertheless significant of the difficulties involved in filming about sensitive issues and on the responsibility of any filmmaker in finding the right balance between self-censorship and remaining true to his or her Art. It would be unjust to accuse the film or the novel of a manifestation of neo-colonialism, or the actors (child or adult) as bad intentioned, all the more that The Kite Runner is most certainly highlighting true and difficult social issues that need to be addressed by any society that hopes for progress or at best wants to heal its deep scars …
Below is a Report on this controversy:
Kite Runner flies into controversy
By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kabul
Book-lovers and movie-goers are eagerly awaiting the release this November of the film version of a much-loved novel, the worldwide bestseller, The Kite Runner. But it is running into controversy in Afghanistan, the country where most of it is set, and among Afghan diaspora communities.
Written in 2003 by the Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini, the book spans the years from the pre-war Kabul of the 1970s to the brutality of the Taleban era.
It deals with poignant themes such as exile, a son's longing to please his father and - above all - friendship and betrayal between two boys, the novel's central characters.
'I became what I am today at the age of 12, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975,' the novel begins.
'I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek.'
That is the narrator, Amir, looking back on the boyhood moment that changed his life.
Only later do we learn what he was witnessing - the rape of the boy who is both his loyal best friend and his servant, Hassan - by a psychopathic bully.
Instead of rescuing Hassan, Amir runs away. The incident changes their friendship for ever and is the defining moment of the book.
Yet some of those involved in the film say they had no idea it would have such a disturbing scene.
The film version has been shot in one of Afghanistan's main languages, Dari, and using ordinary Afghans in many of the roles - including the three principal children, who were chosen from among 2,000 in Kabul schools.
That is a brave move aimed at achieving maximum authenticity. But it has created unforeseen hitches.
On a damp and muddy afternoon I visited a mainly Hazara neighbourhood of Kabul - the Hazara are a traditionally downtrodden ethnic group to which the fictional character of Hassan belongs.
Down a secluded pathway I paid a call on 11-year-old Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, the boy who plays Hassan, and his father Ahmad Jaan.
'Didn't tell me'
The father says it was only after arriving in Kashgar in western China - where the film was shot for security reasons - that he learned of the rape scene, and that he wanted to withdraw his son from it.
'When I told them I would not let Ahmad Khan take part in this film, they said: 'We won't film that scene',' he says.
Ahmad Khan is the perfect actor for Hassan - like the fictional boy, he is always smiling.
But, like his father, he is uneasy about the film in which he is starring.
'They didn't tell me about the story of this book,' he tells me in English, recalling the audition and the casting.
He says he did do the rape scene although without removing his trousers - 'because that's not right', he adds firmly.
Because this key scene was filmed in a non-explicit way, it seems that at the time Ahmad's father did not even realise it had happened.
I called up one of The Kite Runner's producers, Rebecca Yeldham, in Los Angeles.
'The scene has been handled in a very, very discreet and non-gratuitous fashion,' she said.
'The scene contains no nudity. It's rendered in a very sort of impressionistic way. But it's also important in being faithful to that story - that there's no confusions that the attack in the alley that took place on that child was a sexual violation.'
I told her that according to Ahmad Jaan, the director had promised not to film the scene.
'That's not correct,' she replied. 'No one ever made those assertions to Ahmad's father.'
She said all the cast were warned beforehand that there would be 'challenging scenes' in the film.
But several other cast members have now joined Ahmad Jaan in saying that even though the rape scene has been filmed, it should be removed.
Nabi Tanha, the actor who plays Hassan's father in the movie - Ali - says he is uneasy about the bad language against Hazaras.
Ahmad Jaan says his fears are two-fold - that the film will worsen relations between Hazaras and the dominant Pashtuns (both the boy rapist and the principal character Amir are Pashtun); and that his own family may be in danger when the film comes out, because of Afghan concepts of dishonour.
'Of course I'm worried about it,' he says. 'My own people from my own tribe will turn against me because of the story. I am so worried they may cut my throat, they may kill me, torture me.'
His son has been quoted as saying he fears his friends will shun him because they think he really was raped.
In Bamiyan, the Hazara heartland, I spoke about such fears to Musa Sultani, who heads the local branch of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission.
Bamiyan has a painful history of violence inflicted on Hazaras by the Taleban and inter-ethnic strife going back much further, and Mr Sultani believes the film could reignite old tensions.
'This scene, in an Afghan context, can be interpreted as a dishonour to one community, to one ethnicity,' he says.
'In a tribal society, people don't distinguish between fictitious or real things.'
That means that a piece of fiction or a joke could be taken with deadly seriousness.
However, not all the Afghans involved are as worried.
Mustafa Maroof, who was a casting agent and translator, told the BBC that because the rape scene was filmed in an indirect way, there probably would not be an adverse reaction.
Producer Rebecca Yeldham is aware of the sensitivities now surfacing and says she is in touch with community organisations in Kabul.
But she says the fears - which have spread to expatriate Afghans using internet chat rooms - are based on a mistaken belief that the scene in the film is explicit while, in fact, it was filmed discreetly in deference to Afghan feelings.
'We don't believe the kids' lives are at risk. We don't believe we've put them in that position,' she says.
But the producers' concerns are such that they have just decided not to release the film in Afghanistan - although DVD versions are bound to circulate there.
Steven Rubenstein, one of the film's publicity agents, told the BBC the novel's author, Khaled Hosseini, who was closely involved in the shooting, was also 'very concerned'.
The producers of The Kite Runner are proud to be using ordinary Afghan actors.
But the filming has aroused controversies they seem to have failed to foresee - on the blurring of fact and fiction in a society very different from California, and on Afghan notions of honour and tribalism.
Official Website for Kite Runner Film by DreamWorks Pictures
Also read my article: Persian Kite Runners