Phil Bray / DreamWorks
By Ron Magid, Special to the Times In Afghanistan, kites are more than a hobby, they're a national sport. Afghan kites don't just fly, they dance and battle. The kites are flown on "cutting" lines, called "tar shiasha," or strings dipped in ground glass designed to sever opponents' lines during dogfights. So when director Marc Forster was preparing to film Khaled Hosseini's bestselling novel "The Kite Runner," he realized the book's central metaphor of kites soaring, fighting and falling to earth would not translate if his young lead actors (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada as Hassan and Zekiria Ebrahimi as Amir) couldn't fly a kite with total conviction. Forster was looking for a kite specialist but found someone who also knew Afghanistan circa 1978, pre-Russia, pre-Taliban, pre-U.S. Basir Beria is a world fighter kite champion who makes and sells his own kites and "tar" from his North Hollywood Smokehouse and Magazines shop. "I was 8 years old when I built my first kite," Beria says. "From that day, I eat kites, I drink kites, I walk kites." The Afghan native, who says he was imprisoned and tortured by the Russian KGB, injected his history into his kite-fighting choreography, and inspired the actors and extras to battle with intensity. "The philosophy of fighter kites is 'I own the sky until I cut everybody or someone cuts me,' " Beria told his students. "I always say, Shorto paneer. I'm going to cut you like a cheese."
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