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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kabul Kite-Maker Stars Behind the Scenes

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A man living in a graveyard in a garbage-strewn, rundown Kabul district is the unlikely hero behind the scenes of one of Hollywood's most eagerly anticipated movies this year.

Noor Agha is widely acknowledged as the best kite-maker in Afghanistan, where flying and dueling with kites is the closest thing the country has to a national sport.

"The Kite-Runner," based on the bestselling novel by an Afghan immigrant living in the United States, hits the screens in November, featuring hundreds of kites painstakingly made by Agha in his shack in a graveyard in Kabul's Ashiqan Arifan area.

He also spent weeks training the movie's teenage protagonists in kite flying and dueling, skills they used on camera when the movie was shot in China last year.

"I got $30 a day for 45 days, teaching them all I knew. Sometimes I had to smack them when they didn't do well," Agha said, smiling and revealing a missing upper tooth.

He says he hasn't seen any rushes of "The Kite-Runner," a story of fatherhood, friendship and betrayal that starts in 1970s Kabul and moves to California's Bay Area and back to Afghanistan when it was ruled by the Taliban. "I am waiting for it, it's my movie," he said, taking time off from kite making for a cigarette and a cup of green tea.

Agha, a 51-year-old balding and bearded man, makes his kites on a wooden pallet on the floor of his carpet-lined living room. For the simple ones, it takes just under half an hour, starting with pasting two strips of bamboo on a one-square-meter piece of brightly colored tissue paper, one straight across the diagonal and the other curved in an arc between the other two ends.

A string is then tied around the perimeter and pasted down. As a final flourish, each kite Agha makes carries a pasted paper cutout of a scorpion -- his trademark -- and his name in the Dari script, painstakingly snipped out of tissue paper and glued down.

The key to a good kite, Agha said, is in the glue he uses, a green paste that contains several secret ingredients besides paste and rice gruel. The quality of the glue allows him to make a kite with no wrinkles in the paper, keeping it entirely flat.

"It's a gift of Allah," said the kite-maker of his skills. These simple kites he sells to traders for $1 a piece, but he charges up to $200 for large kites with elaborate designs, including one with all the provinces of Afghanistan copied from an atlas on to tissue paper, cut out and pasted on the kite.

When the strictly Islamist Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they banned kite flying. Agha said he worked underground for some time and then fled to Pakistan.

When he returned, the only land he could find was in the graveyard of the district in which he was born, where he now lives with two wives and 10 children. And he doesn't want to move, despite his relative affluence.

"Even if you give me the whole of Kabul as a gift, I won't live anywhere else," he said. "This is my homeland."