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GRAB THE GOAT AND RIDE, OMAR!
Robert H. Boyle
May 17, 1971
Galloping right out of Afghanistan onto the silver screen comes a gutty saga featuring the world's roughest sporting event, buzkashi
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May 17, 1971

Grab The Goat And Ride, Omar!

Galloping right out of Afghanistan onto the silver screen comes a gutty saga featuring the world's roughest sporting event, buzkashi

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Sharif performed well on horseback, but on occasion a chapandaz who resembled him would be called in for an especially tricky bit. Frankenheimer says, "Up until this film I had never asked an actor to do what I wouldn't do. Of course Burt Lancaster has done some fantastic things, but then he was trained as an acrobat. But in this film I wouldn't do what Sharif did for me. He is a man who approaches his work professionally prepared, and he is a very brave man. He had to be able to hang on to the side of a horse with 50 horses right behind him. It's one thing for an actor to fall off a horse accidentally, but it's another thing for an actor to know that if he did he'd get trampled by 50 horses behind him."

Of his part as Uraz, Sharif says, "I did almost all my own riding, and I'm rather proud of it. I think I did some good things on a horse. I think the chapandaz were not too rough on me because they knew I was an actor, and they are quite sensitive people, really. Directors are supposed to prefer stunt men, but since this film is really about the game and the riders it was important that you see it well. Frankenheimer wanted everything to be close up because it makes it more exciting when you see the rider, the horses, everything, close up, which you cannot do with a stunt man."

Because of problems of logistics, not all of the film was shot in Afghanistan. About a third of it was taken on a plain in Spain. In Kabul no Afghan had the temerity to play the king at the royal buzkashi, but in Spain Frankenheimer found an eager Spaniard who looked startlingly like the real-life king, Mohammed Zahir Shah. To keep continuity, the director even had a dozen chapandaz flown to Spain from Afghanistan. "They'd never been on a plane before," he says, "and Mecca was in the opposite direction. For a while they kept facing New York, and I thought that's pretty good, because New York is where the money is. They hated the food in Spain, and so they cooked their own. Once I took them to a restaurant for dinner, and for 12 of them I ordered 50 trout, 30 chickens and five cases of Coca-Cola. They love Coca-Cola. Being Moslems, they don't drink alcohol. For dessert they ate seven watermelons."

In retrospect, Frankenheimer regards the chapandaz as "the toughest, strongest men I have ever seen. I would take a team of 11 chapandaz and put them against the Baltimore Colts. I would show them the goal line and tell them they had just four tries to get the ball across."

Indeed, Frankenheimer has become so hipped on the chapandaz that he has discussed bringing them over to the U.S. to hold buzkashis in places like the Astrodome. Impresario Sol Hurok is interested. Maybe The Horsemen will prompt the start of an American chapandaz championship, with Pete Rozelle as commissioner. Frankenheimer is never sure what results his films may have. Shortly after he finished Seven Days in May, an account of Army generals seizing the White House, he was asked to send a print of the film to a general who was a friend of a friend in South America. Frankenheimer did so, and after studying the putsch in the movie the general overthrew the Brazilian government.

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