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'Kite Runner': Danger On and Off the Screen

Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, left, and Zekeria Ebrahim star in the film, whose premiere has been postponed to safeguard the young actors.
Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, left, and Zekeria Ebrahim star in the film, whose premiere has been postponed to safeguard the young actors. (By Phil Bray -- Dreamworks)

The studio has offered to fly the boys to the United States later this month, where they could participate in the film's promotion and premieres. Afterward, they would reside in the United Arab Emirates at least through March, the start of the school year in Kabul.

Forster, the film's director, denied suggestions that he had offered to cut the rape scene from the film, and said that he had respected a request from Ahmad Khan's father not to show any of the boy's unclothed body. "Obviously," Forster said, "my primary concern is the safety and welfare of the kids."

Based on the 2003 book by Afghan American author Khaled Hosseini, the movie chronicles Amir's life in Kabul before the Soviets' 10-year occupation, his flight as a refugee and his return to Afghanistan during the Taliban regime to make amends. Sitting with his 85-year-old grandmother, Bibi Haji, Zekeria said he enjoyed playing the part of Amir, even though the story at times cut close to the bone.

In the movie and book, "when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and Amir emigrated to Pakistan -- that's exactly the same thing that happened to my family when the Taliban came," he said.

Bibi Haji said Zekeria's father was killed in a 1995 rocket attack while fetching medicine for his sick daughter. Before Zekeria was born, his mother fled with the rest of the family to a refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, as the Taliban laid siege to Kabul and prepared to capture it. Later, she abandoned Zekeria and his sister to relatives, and they lived in Pakistan for about seven years.

Zekeria has been raised principally by his aunt Wahida Ebrahim, 28, in a large family house with 17 other relatives. For "The Kite Runner," he was paid $1,500 a week for three months of filming -- a king's ransom in Afghanistan, where the per capita income is about $335 a year. "We have invested the money in a bank for his future," the aunt said.

Zekeria, who is an ethnic Tajik playing an ethnic Pashtun, is not as concerned about the possible backlash as his co-star, Ahmad Khan, who like his film character is a Hazara, an ethnic minority that has long been oppressed.

"In the current situation, I don't think we'll have a problem," the aunt said. "But if the government changed and the Taliban returned, I don't know what could happen."

The aunt said the filmmakers have promised to help her and Zekeria establish their lives outside Afghanistan, and that they would welcome that chance.

Pending fame has not gone to Zekeria's head. Only his teacher and one classmate know he is starring in the movie, he said. Although he loves computer class, his school does not have an Internet connection, so Zekeria hasn't Googled the movie or his own name to see the growing number of references. The idea seems never to have occurred to him.

Zekeria, who said he wants to be a doctor, has never heard of Spielberg or seen movies such as "E.T." or "Jurassic Park" that have become staples of American childhood. But asked about his favorite movie, Zekeria didn't miss a beat: "The Magnificent Seven," the 1960 Yul Brynner western that figures into "The Kite Runner," whose narrator has seen it 13 times. Favorite actor? Steve McQueen, one of the Magnificent Seven.

In the book and movie, Amir and Hassan share a love for competitive kite-flying, a traditional sport among Afghan children, who lace their kite strings with tiny slivers of glass, then do battle with other kite fliers, aiming to slice their strings and have the last kite in the air.

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