Watching Kite Runner on a DVD recently, and not having read the book, I was struck by a few things. The first was that the epic scene which shapes the entire story – the kite ‘battle’ in which Amir halts another boy’s winning streak just in time to save his father’s record – is a wonderful filmic moment, one of those sequences for which film could have have been invented, with its movement, colour, scale and illusion.
And perhaps this connects to the strongest resonance for me, in the portrait of the exiled Afghan community in California, and the way that such communities re-form themselves – in conditions of hardship and poverty – in such a way that they become reflections of their home cultures, still trapped inside the amber. Some of Britain’s Anglo-Asian film-makers have touched on this (Bend It Like Beckham comes to mind) but the picture of that Afghan world in California seemed, to this British viewer, both honest and nuanced. And by chance the next morning I read a review of Joseph O’Neill’s novel Netherland which touched on cricket being played in New York.
The link between New York and cricket may not seem obvious, but look out of the window on the drive to JFK and you’ll see dozens of games being played on any half-suitable patch of land.The games are all being played by immigrants from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the West Indies (“there’s a limit to what Americans understand,” says a character towards the end of the book, “the limit is cricket”).
The third thought is that for all the courage of the producers in filming so much of the dialogue in Dari, with subtitles, which would conventionally be regarded in Hollywood as a surefire formula for losing money, it must have helped that the timings of the story (1978-2000) conveniently bookended the period of Russian, then Taliban, rule, rather than the American/”Allied” occupation. In the circumstances the line, “The invaders always leave” is almost too knowing. Maybe the film’s success is also an indication that David Putnam’s attempt, in his unsuccessful sojourn as Head of Pictures at Columbia, to make pictures which had meaning beyond the borders of the United States, was simply ahead of its time.
There’s also the memorable speech about the only sin being theft (“Every other sin is a variation of theft… When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness.”). Amir’s father Baba, initially unsympathetic, turns out to be the “centre of good”, when he faces down a Russian soldier at a checkpoint, and makes the call to the General to let Amir ask for the hand of his daughter (“If not now, then when?”). Of course, the plot turns, twice, on theft; one framed, of a watch; one real, of a child.