Tag Archives: Kipling

Old Movie Echoes Short Walk in Hindu Kush

Destination: Afghanistan

Movie: The Man Who Would be King

When I told a friend about the book A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush which we discussed a short time ago at A Traveler’s Library, he said, “Have you seen the movie, The Man Who Would Be King?  It sounds like the same journey, but with very different results.”

How right he was!

I promptly rented The Man Who Would Be King, a buddy road trip movie on steroids.  What a line up! The original story by Rudyard Kipling intrigued director John Huston who planned in the 1950’s to film it with Humphrey Bogart and later considered Redford and Newman.  But by the time he filmed it, in 1975, he took Newman’s advice and cast British actors Michael Caine and Sean Connery. With those two, it had to be good.

Huston borrowed scenery from Morocco and France to create an awesome backdrop representing northern India and Afghanistan. (Pakistan played itself). The scenery, along with lots of local color, pretty much sinks the feeble story line.  Since people in 1975 generally knew even less about Afghan culture than they do today, Huston got away with a grand mishmash of costume and custom. The great Edith Head got an Academy Award for the costumes, and the scenery and set decoration came in for recognition, too.

As for the relationship to A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, Eric Newby and his buddy were crossing the Hindu Kush in the 1950’s to reach Nuristan–a remote province where residents descended from Alexander the Great.

In the movie, the two former British soldiers in the late 19th century set out on a con game to become Kings and wealthy in the fictional province of Kafiristan. (Kafir being the native troops who fought for the British Empire in India) I learned from a comment left at IMDB.com that towns mentnioed in the movie were actual towns in Nuristan.

So Newby and Kipling were writing about a desert-crossing-mountain-climbing road trip to the same exotic locale.  Except Newby did not find a religious citadel full of riches.  And despite his hardships, he came out in much better shape. (The make up artist did a real number on Michael Caine. That’s all I’m going to say about that.)