October 20, 2012 By Shameer Ks

The Kite Runner: Plotting an Afghan Narrative

The Kite Runner-01For Aristotle ‘catharsis’ was the aim of entertainers. We make thrillers in the way Shakespeare did comedies, tragedies and tragi-comedies to create so much catharsis as to make us shed our emotional tensions through tears, as to make us laugh our problems out and as to fix our buttocks on the edge of our seats to transfer our emotions via anus to seats. We chew our nails and even tickets at the extreme.

If we take mass media entertainment as commercial products, we will have to acknowledge that brilliant filmmakers know how to conceal their politics-‘message’-inside a sitting edge suspense thriller to pass them over as pills to purge your tensions. The likes of Innocence of Muslims are hardly an option for them. We watch and applaud; we blind ourselves and forget. All narratives imitate the good-must-prevail pattern and using the state-of –the-art cinematic technique brilliant orchestrate the plot. The word ‘plot’ has two meanings: The story that is told in a novel, play or movie etc. on the hand; a secret scheme to do something on the other. While brilliantly carrying out a plot the writer and filmmaker want to narrate, the films conceal the plot they want to hide inside the structure. It is the responsibility of a politically-conscious reader/viewer to expose the hidden plot, while watching/reading the expressed plot, through the gaps and silences in the process of narration.

Take, for instance, the film The Kite Runner directed by Marc Forster based on the novel of the same name by Khaled Hosseini. The novel was a best-seller and received several accolades including the South African Boeke Prize in 2004 and Reading Group Book of the Year in 2006. The Book headed a list of 60 titles submitted by entrants to the Penguin/Orange Reading Group prize.

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/aug/07/news.awardsandprizes). Several friends of mine suggested reading the book or ‘at least watch(ing) the movie.’ The movie was hailed as a true voice on Afghanistan by a leading critic in Kerala.  ‘How can you assess its truth,’ I texted him, ‘as you have never been to Afghanistan?’ ‘Dude,’ pat comes his reply, ‘the novelist hails from Afghanistan and who does not know that it is country which churn out only land mines.’

Watching the movie, I realized that it has all ingredients to keep us hooked. Symbolism crafted around kites and children: The part where Amir the protagonist remembers his childhood in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet invasion reminds us of the frames of Majid Majidi. Twists in the plots: While there is scope for slipping into melodrama out of alleged theft, the filmmaker does not stay long at the juncture. Intertextual references: There are allusions to Rumi, love, poetry and Sufi wisdom (shared though it is by an inebriated man). There is a moral hinging on the protagonist’s redemption from false allegation of theft (by rescuing a poor child from the pedophiliac, bearded Taliban Mullas).

One need not admire Taliban to realize that the film (and indeed the novel) is problematic. The villain which is not personified in the narrative is the poverty of Afghanistan and the desperation of Afghanis. The filmmaker (and indeed the novelist) points his finger at two phenomena in the history of the country: Russian invasion and the misrule of Taliban. The American war on Afghanistan started in 2001, and it went on when the book was written in 2003 and the film was made in 2007. But the US was presented in both the narratives as a safe haven, as the rescuer. Even the Afghani, who runs an orphanage amidst ruins, thinks that children can be saved when they are taken to the US. Amir is the US personified; ‘a man stung by desperation and sense of justice’ intervenes to help at least one man from the clutches of Taliban.
There are some relevant critiques on the movie. Kim Sen Gupta, in his article published in the Independent wrote:

At a discussion in London’s Frontline Club on David Loyn’s book about Afghanistan, a member of the audience pointed out that Khaled Hosseini’s best selling novel about the country, The Kite Runner, portrays the main Taliban character as half-German, with Nazi tendencies: a sadist and, for good measure, a paedophile. What possible chance, he asked , is there of understanding the protagonist in this prolonged conflict with such stigmatising by the West?

The questioner was a brave man called Alex Donnelly, a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Navy. He lost his eyesight in a bombing in Basra in 2006, in which four of his comrades were killed. It is, of course, British servicemen and women, as well as thousands of Iraqis and Afghans, who have been injured and killed in Blair and Bush’s war on terror.

Iranian literature specialist Dr. Fatemeh Keshavarz (Washington University in St. Louis) wrote in her book Jasmine and Stars: Reading More than Lolita in Tehran about the general characteristics of the works of The Kite Runner’s ilk:
They often have an informal tone and a hybrid nature that make for an accessible read. Most of them blend travel writing, personal memoir, journalistic reporting, and social commentary. They show awareness of the power of personal voice, nostalgia in exilic literature, the assurance that comes with insider knowledge, and the certainty of eyewitness accounts. Yet they do not demand that readers have an in-depth knowledgeof the culture on which the book is focused. Neither do they provide such readers, at the end of the eventful journey, with more than a chance for a feel of the elephant in the dark.
(Jasmine and Stars: Reading More than Lolita in Tehra, page 3)

Hamid Dabashi’s terms ‘native informer’ and Comprador intellectuals’, his analysis on the European and American versions of Islamophobia and his observations on Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran are relevant on the Kite Runner as well:
There is a fundamental difference between the manifestations of anti-Muslim racism in Europe and in the United States—and this difference makes the market for the native informer’s services doubly profitable in the latter. While, in Europe, classical anti-Semitism is now being transfigured into assaults on the rights of Muslimcitizens, in the United States such rights as wearing a scarf or attending a religious school have seldom been questioned….
….In the United States, where the situation is quite different, the services that native informers find most profitable have to do with the wars against Muslim countries that George W. Bush’s presidency in particular created and sustained. Thus, where the European market for native informers is prolonged, steady, and longue duree, the American one is unpredictable, volatile, and, precisely for these reasons, more lucrative. The European market yields the native informer a steady but relatively low income, while the American one offers a short-term but quite handsome windfall. If Rushdie’s position on the Muhammad cartoon row typifies the services that native informers can lend the European market to demonize Islam and intimidate Muslim communities into submission to the whim and will of white racists, Azar Nafisi’s publication of Reading Lolita in Tehran in 2003, shortly before the invasion of Iraq, performs the same function in the American context. We now need to take a closer look at just how Nafisi was reading Lolita in Tehran.


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