Khalid Abdalla stars as the adult Amir in the film based on Khaled Hosseini’s bestselling novel, The Kite Runner, directed by Marc Forster. The story begins with two young boys - Amir and Hassan – growing up together in Kabul, flying kites, hanging out, and playing games as best friends do. However their friendship crumbles when Amir betrays his friend Hassan. Decades later after having fled with his father to America, Amir must return to Kabul in order to redeem himself and save Hassan’s son.
The Kite Runner book has millions of fans, however Abdalla hadn't read Hosseini's novel until he was being considered for a starring role in the film version. “I’m probably the only person in the world that’s had the opportunity to read the book with a sense that I might be playing the lead character in the book,” admitted Abdalla. “Reading it, I just had the sense of, ‘Let me at it!’ I just wanted to have a go.”
The actor believed this Hollywood adaptation would be done right after being told a large part of the film would be in Dari. “As soon as I heard that, it was pretty clear the way in which the film was going to be made and the concerns that Marc [Forster] would have as a director,” explained Abdalla.
The story drew Abdalla in, and he was appreciative of the fact The Kite Runner treats a region of the world differently than most films have in the past. “I was very aware going in, this was the first film I could think of in the history of Hollywood where the first point of contact with not just Afghanistan but the Middle East, was a human story, a family story. You know, not physical violence which it always is. And so to be part of something that has that aspect to it, which is a kind of landmark attempt in my experience and how I feel the part of the world that my family comes from is represented - it’s a bit of a landmark - and to be part of that is something that makes me incredibly proud. So the opportunity to be part of that, rather than something I have fears about and trepidations over just to how it’s going to be treated, it was more an opportunity to go and give everything you have, that was really the approach from the start. I think as well the decision that Marc made to not do the film entirely in English resulted in a wealth of experience being available to him that wouldn’t have been otherwise. When you make that decision, suddenly people from Afghanistan, from Iran, from the Middle East come into the film and give to it in a way you wouldn’t be able to access otherwise.”
Abdalla did as much research as possible in order to get into the character of Amir. “Because obviously Amir’s Afghan and American and I’m neither, I’m British and Egyptian and I didn’t speak Dari before the film so I went to Afghanistan basically, as it turned out, with six days notice,” said Abdalla. “I went to Kabul and I spent a month there where I had 4 to 5 hours of Dari lessons a day, where they completely banished English. I immersed myself, voraciously traveling everywhere referenced in the book, eating everything referenced in the book, and everything I could find. I went to a couple of weddings. I traveled north and parts of the west of the country, somehow at the end of that I came out speaking Dari which I hadn’t expected to be the country’s parting gift to me. But that came from the knowledge of what it feels like to be misrepresented and how much that hurts. Having had the experience in film after film after film, or whatever, or news program or whatever it might be where you feel like a detail like the style of furniture or the type of painting or haircut or the type of gun used is more important than how a whole part of the world live and speak. And so to then be guilty of that was something that I could not allow myself to do. I’d never forgive myself if at the end of it I’d look back and not felt as if I’d given everything I could.”
The studio releasing The Kite Runner, Paramount Vantage, has been in the news leading up to the film's release due to a security issue relating to the young actors in the film. As a preemptive move to ensure their safety, four boys who appeared in critical roles in the movie were moved from Kabul to the United Arab Emirates. Commenting on the safety concerns, Abdalla said, “I think as it stands, the situation is that there are fears that there could be adverse reactions. So far there haven’t been. Very rightly so, the studio has taken the position that since there could be some adverse reactions, not to be caught in an awful position so to take them out so that if there are any adverse reactions, we know they’re safe. But, we can only really judge by the reactions Afghans here and elsewhere who’ve seen the film have had to the film, which is immensely, immensely positive.”
Sharing his knowledge of the region, Abdalla said, “Afghanistan’s a country that at one point had over 6 million refugees, the largest refugee population in the world, and no one associates with the stories that come with that. The Kite Runner is a drop in the ocean, relative to the experience that that country’s been through. But yet, you say the world Afghanistan, you say the word even Muslim or Arab or Middle East, and it’s just negative associations. It’s the Taliban. It’s Osama Bin Laden. It’s terrorism; it’s bombs.
In a way, 6 million people leaving a country, although it’s to do with political violence, it’s also an expression of love in a strange way. That’s how I see it. You leave a country because you care about your family, you care about the people that you live with. You care. And people don’t associate it with that. Part of what this film does or the book rather – or both – is redress that balance. If there’s a source for being surprised as to the potential for adverse reactions, it really comes out of the sense that that’s what we’re all aware of.”
Abdalla recalled one particular experience following a screening of The Kite Runner which really summed it all up. During a Q&A after the credits rolled, an Afghan woman stood up in the audience and said, ‘Thank you. I feel represented. I feel like you shared my culture and my history in a way that I recognize, and I’m happy to share.’”