The headstrong middle child of the Alizai household, Parvana takes it upon herself to provide for her family when her father is unjustly arrested by the Taliban. She disguises herself as a boy named Aatish and goes out to work as the familys breadwinner.
- Adorably Precocious Child: Subverted. Parvana thinks herself above stories and games because of her responsibility to her family, and the hardship they endure in the war-torn country.
- Big Brother Worship: She adored her deceased big brother Sulayman, and is still struggling to cope with his death.
- Character Development: The beginning of the story has Parvana cynical and grumpy who finds her father's stories childish. The subsequent arrest of her father and her having to pretend to be a boy, has her gradually gain an optimistic, friendlier attitude and using stories as a coping mechanism.
- Character Name Alias: Parvana adopts the name Aatish, meaning "fire", as part of her boy disguise.
- Childhood Friends: She used to be classmates with Shauzia. When they meet again, they quickly recognise each other and bond over their shared predicament.
- Daddy's Girl: Shes very close to her father, and will stop at nothing to get him out of prison.
- Determinator: The dangers of the Taliban regime wont stop her from trying to see her father again.
- The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Takes potshots at her sister Soraya on every chance she gets.
- Grumpy Bear: At the beginning of the story, Parvana dismisses her fathers storytelling and resigns herself to her responsibilities. After her Promotion to Parent and exploration of the outside world as a boy, she gradually grows in confidence, conviction, and even cheerfulness.
- Harmful to Minors: Is frequently exposed to the violence and rampant misogyny of the Taliban regime, and has to do backbreaking work just to make ends meet.
- I Will Find You: Parvana is very stubborn when it comes to finding her father again. She takes a trip to the Pul-e-Charkhi prison thrice, the last of which has her defying Fattema's plea for her not to many times until Soraya has to step in and grant her permission. She also never wavers while waiting for Razaq to search for Nurallah, even as bombs start to fall throughout the landscape.
- Important Haircut: As is typical for a Sweet Polly Oliver, using her sister's help.
- Intergenerational Friendship: Strikes up a friendship with Razaq.
- Meaningful Appearance: Her green eyes are a clear Shout-Out to the famous Afghan Girl, Sharbat Gula.
- Parting Words Regret: Downplayed example. Parvana doesn't say anything outright mean to her father, but she is very pessimistic, rude to everyone, and claims she no longer likes stories. When she insults her sister and he orders her to apologize, she glares at him instead, just as the Taliban come in to arrest him. She then becomes the most determined to get him out of prison, presumably for this reason. When they are reunited, the first thing she does is smilingly repeat the last story he told her before his arrest, to let him know she still loves and values his stories.
- Promotion to Parent: She disguises herself as a boy in order to work, while Soraya takes care of things at home.
- Rapunzel Hair: Before she cuts it short.
- The Storyteller: Though she felt like shed outgrown her fathers stories at the start, she quickly takes up the mantle to keep the familys morale up.
- Strong Family Resemblance: After cutting her hair short, her mother remarks that she looks just like her brother.
- Survival Mantra: "Sulayman! Be brave, Sulayman!"
- Sweet Polly Oliver: Thanks to the Talibans harshly enforced segregation of women, she has to disguise herself as a boy to keep her family alive.
- Title Character: Parvana is the titled "Breadwinner".
- Took a Level in Kindness: Caring for the family and disguising herself as a boy to work makes her much more cheerful and nice.
- Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Parvana chooses Aatishnote as her alias despite it not being a real name, so most men she tells it to have this reaction.
- Whole Costume Reference: Parvana's red scarf and green dress seem to be this to the Afghan Girl portrait of Sharbat Gula, who was only a year or two older than her when the photo was taken and also has striking green eyes.
Shauzia is an old classmate of Parvanas, who just like her was forced to take up the identity of a boy named Deliwar in order to work odd jobs and provide for her family.
- Abusive Parents: "I am a good son. But he is not a good father."
- The Artful Dodger: Tries to come off as this.
- Big Ol' Eyebrows: In contrast with the other female characters.
- Character Name Alias: Shauzia goes by the male pseudonym Deliwar, which means "brave" in Dari (Persian).
- Childhood Friends: With Parvana.
- Conditioned to Accept Horror: Shes used to the dangers and horrors of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, as well as the abuse she faces at home.
- Financial Abuse: Her cruel father mooches off most of her hard-earned money.
- Foil: To Parvana. Parvana starts off as a Grumpy Bear before Character Development, lives in a loving household in which she's also a Daddy's Girl, and spends most of the film trying to reunite with her father. Shauzia is The Pollyanna but she's on the verge of a breakdown, lives in an abusive household with a horrible father who she desperately wants to get away from.
- Greater Need Than Mine: Insists that Parvana take all of her hard-earned savings so that she could free her father, before giving her one last tearful hug.
- Harmful to Minors: Has to perform risky, exhausting work in the midst of predatory men just to eke out a living.
- The Pollyanna: Though she does her best to maintain a bubbly disposition, she clearly struggles with both the physical and emotional stress of her ordeal, and is visibly on the verge of breakdown at multiple points.
- Quirky Curls: She's cheerful and quirky, and has the curly hair to match.
- Sweet Polly Oliver: Like Parvana, she has to disguise herself as a boy to earn money.
- Tragic Dream: Downplayed. She desperately wants to escape Afghanistan and see the sea with her own eyes, which, though not impossible, is exceedingly difficult, considering that shes trapped in a poor, abusive household in landlocked, war-torn country.
A former schoolteacher who lost his leg in the war, Parvanas father Nurullah struggles to make ends meet for his family as a street peddler and scribe. Despite of this, he maintains a cheerful outlook on life and works to pass down his knowledge to his children.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: Judging by his condition by the end of the film, he was likely starved and abused in prison. If it werent for Parvana and Razaqs rescue, he probably wouldve been summarily executed along with the other prisoners.
- Dad the Veteran: Fought the Soviets alongside the Mujahideen, an experience that cost him his leg.
- Disappeared Dad: Downplayed, justified, and deconstructed. Nurullah is a very much am attentive father but was unjustifiably thrown into prison by a petty Idrees. And since he was the only adult male of his family, his wife and children initially struggle to survive until Parvana decides to pretend to be a boy.
- Garage Sale: After a fashion. He peddles his familys non-essential belongings and valuables (most notably a dress that Parvana never wore) in the street in order to bring food to the table.
- Genius Cripple: Downplayed. He is a wise, well-learned former schoolteacher who also happens to be an amputee.
- Happily Married: While it's not shown in detail, he and Fattema clearly love and value one another.
- Meaningful Name: Nurullah means light of God in Arabic.
- Nice Guy: Is kind and polite to everyone he meets, even Idrees (until he starts harassing Parvana, that is).
- Open-Minded Parent: Parvana's father believes women should be educated, and teaches his daughters how to read and write. Justified as he was a teacher who married a writer, and had many female childhood friends and relatives that he went to school with before the Taliban eventually took over later in his life.
- Outliving One's Offspring: His son, Sulayman, was killed by a bomb he mistook for a toy.
- Papa Wolf: When Idrees makes a creepy comment in regards to why Parvana is not dressed appropriately, Nurullah, yells at him to stop staring at her.
- The Pollyanna: Hes not going to let the poverty and repression of Taliban-ruled Kabul stop him from keeping his familys spirits up.
- Small Role, Big Impact: Well, hes Parvanas father, but he only appears for a relatively short time. His arrest sets the story in motion.
- The Storyteller: Teaches Parvana the history of their country in the form of stories. After his arrest, Parvana takes up the mantle to keep everyone's spirits up.
- Younger Than They Look: His Taliban-mandated beard and missing leg make him look older than he is.
Parvanas mother, a former writer.
- Adult Fear: She constantly worries for her familys safety throughout the film. The fact that shes completely unable to work or protect them under Taliban law just makes it worse.
- Barehanded Blade Block: Invoked and played for drama. When the unnamed relative draws a knife to threaten Fattema, she purposely strides forward and grabs the blade until her palm bleeds to show that she's serious about protecting her children. He backs off in the end.
- Family-Unfriendly Violence: Is beaten up by a Taliban fighter in front of Parvana.
- Freudian Slip: Calls Parvana by Sulayman's name several times.
- Happily Married: While it's not shown in detail, she and Nurullah clearly love and value one another.
- Heroic BSoD:
- The hardship she experiences, along with the cumulative trauma of Sulaymans death, Nurullahs arrest and her beating eventually drives her into depression. She still tries to maintain a strong, loving demeanour in spite of it.
- Her conversation with Nurullah at the beginning implies that shes been struggling with her mental health for a while.
- Informed Attribute: She used to be a writer, though there arent a lot of ways for women to express themselves under the Taliban regime.
- Mama Bear: When her angry cousin tries to take her family to Mazar-i-Sharif by force, she confronts him with a Barehanded Blade Block, fully knowing that she might die doing it.
- Outliving One's Offspring: Her son, Sulayman, was killed by a bomb he mistook for a toy.
- Out of the Frying Pan: Trapped in Kabul and unable to fend for her family, she resorts to arranging a marriage between Soraya and her cousins son in Mazar-i-Sharif, aware that it wont be the end of the hardship and abuse they experience even if it gives them a fighting chance. Judging by her cousins violent behaviour, it might have actually been the worse option.
- Wrong Name Outburst: Fattema calls Parvana "Sulayman" while persuading her not to go to Pul-e-Charkhi.
Parvanas older sister, who takes up the responsibility of running the household while she works.
- Anger Born of Worry: Frequently. Between her fathers arrest, her mothers injuries and depression, her younger sister being out on the streets in constant danger and her little brother being too young to process whats going on, the poor girl has her work cut out for her.
- Anti-Smother Love Talk: Though shes worried for Parvanas safety herself, she eventually talks her mother into letting her search for their father.
- Arranged Marriage: After her fathers arrest, her mother arranges for her to be married off to her cousin in Mazar-i-Sharif, in order for the family to escape their enforced isolation in Kabul. Shes obviously none too happy about this, but goes along with it, since they dont exactly have many alternatives.
- Big Ol' Unibrow: She has a fine one, but unlike the other examples that usually go with this trope, she is neither a comical or evil character.
- Big Sister Instinct: To both of her siblings, but especially to Zaki, as he is too little to take care of himself.
- Cool Big Sis: Soraya has her moments of kindness when Parvana needs it most. Similarly, Parvana brings scrap candy and raisins home for Zaki.
- Corner of Woe: After finding out about her arranged marriage, she doesnt say a word and simply tries to sleep in silent resignation.
- Fire-Forged Friends: In a sense with Parvana. The shared hardships and responsibilities of caring for the family after their father's arrest bring them closer together.
- The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Is quick to chide Parvana for every mistake, and takes her petty insults in return.
- Promotion to Parent: Alongside Parvana. She takes care of her mother and Zaki and handles household chores, while Parvana goes out to the streets as the family breadwinner.
- Proper Lady: Soraya can often be seen doing household chores such as washing dishes and sewing without complaining, tending to wounds, and doing what her mother asks, even grudgingly accepting her Arranged Marriage.
- Rapunzel Hair: Soraya's hair reaches down past her waist.
- The Reliable One: Shes not the boldest or the most personable person in the household, but shes diligently keeps it in order and is willing to do anything to ensure her familys survival.
The familys youngest child, a toddler.
- Annoying Younger Sibling: Downplayed. He never goes out of his way to make trouble, but he doesnt have the maturity to fully grasp whats happening around him just yet.
- The Baby of the Bunch: The youngest in Parvana's family as well as the entire cast.
- Baby Talk: His vocabulary is still quite limited.
- Children Are Innocent: Though, sadly, only because he's too young to know what's going on.
- Crying Little Kid: To be fair, if you were living under the Taliban, youd probably be crying all the time, too. Parvana tells him her stories to soothe him and help him go to sleep.
- Sweet Tooth: Loves raisins, and the candy Parvana gives him.
- Trademark Favorite Food: The raisins served with the traditional Kabuli palaw.
A middle-aged Talib who strikes up a friendship with Parvana (in her disguise as Aatish).
- The Atoner: It's unknown why he served the Taliban, but it's clear he doesn't agree with all of it and tries to use his privilege and power to help Parvana free her father.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Its implied that he overpowers and kills an armed prison guard while rescuing Nurullah from the prison.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
- His wife Hala, as when he learns of her death, he is visibly saddened.
- He also grows to love the young "Aatish", even after he learns of "his" true identity.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Razaq, a fellow Taliban member, clearly disapproves of Idrees' previously mentioned creepy advances on Parvana and over the top threats to Nurallah.
- Intergenerational Friendship: With Parvana, as he's a middle-aged man and she's a preteen.
- Never Learned to Read: As is the case with the majority of people in war-torn Afghanistan. He later asks Parvana to teach him to read and write.
- Not So Stoic: When he discovers that his wife was killed by a landmine, he walks away, clearly struggling to hold back tears.
- Old Soldier: Before he joined the Taliban in the civil war, he fought against the Soviets alongside the Mujahideen.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Downplayed. Razaq's is first shown enforcing gender segregation laws but is clearly disgusted at Indrees' zealousness over said laws as well as his creepiness toward a clearly underage Parvana. And when Razaq does discover 'Aatish' is Parvana, that doesn't stop him from rescuing her father.
- Punch-Clock Villain: In a sense. He is introduced enforcing gender segregation for the Taliban, but he is revealed to have been a kind, loving husband to his own wife Hala (and deeply grieved by her death), and when he finds out who "Aartish" is, he risks his life to get her father out of prison for her.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: He is introduced enforcing strict gender segregation for the Taliban alongside Idrees, and approaches Nurullah's shop to admonish him for letting Parvana out. But Razaq relents when he learns Nurullah is a crippled veteran who needs her help, while Idrees just gets angrier. Razaq also looks mildly horrified when Idrees starts making creepy advances at Parvana, and tries to steer him away.
- Redemption Equals Death: It's easy to miss, but in his final scene, he glances at the moon, for which his late wife is named for, suggesting that he feels he had done right by her spirit and would join her soon.
- The Stoic: Rarely shows much emotion, if any at all.
- To Be Lawful or Good: At the beginning, hes tasked with enforcing the segregation of women from public spaces, though nowhere near as zealously as the other Taliban members. After discovering that Parvana is a girl looking to free her father from prison, he readily breaks him out of prison himself.
- Together in Death: After becoming grievously wounded rescuing Nurullah, Razaq glances at the moon which his wife is named for, implying he will join her soon.
- Token Good Teammate: Razaq is part of the Taliban, but he is very kind, gentle, and soft-spoken.
- Uncertain Doom: After the rescue, hes seen with a bloody gunshot wound on his shoulder. Its unclear whether he manages to escape and receive medical attention in time.
- What You Are in the Dark: He makes this plea to a prison guard when hes caught trying to smuggle Nurullah out, pointing out that it doesnt matter when war (and soon, the fall of the Taliban regime) is coming.
A young man who once studied under Nurullah, Idrees has zealously taken up the Taliban cause and now patrols the streets of Kabul to enforce its harsh interpretation of the Islamic Sharia.
- Abhorrent Admirer: Makes creepy advances towards the preteen Parvana twice, once as a girl, once as a boy.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: At the start of the film, he proudly proclaims that he fights enemies of Islam. Near the end, he is called to finally fight in a war, where it's heavily implied he won't survive. He looks visibly terrified at the prospect.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: His zealous belief that women should cover themselves or Stay in the Kitchen, coupled with his creepy interest in the preteen Parvana as a potential wife, is not unheard of in Taliban-controlled Afganistan; yet it serves to make him that much more loathsome to the audience.
- Dirty Coward: Though more than happy to beat up, arrest and otherwise harass those weaker than him, he seems visibly shaken when told that hes being sent to battle.
- Disproportionate Retribution: He has Nurullah arrested and sent to the brutal Pul-e-Charkhi prison (without his walking stick, natch), for wounding his pride.
- Evil Counterpart: To Razaq. Both of them are Taliban members who enforce gender segregation laws, but differ vastly in personality and treatment of other, particularly Parvana's family. The calm, middle-aged Razaq has shown to have become disillusioned with the Taliban and, later on, befriends Paravana (while she pretends to be Aatish) and risks his life to save Nurullah; the volatile, young Idress who zealously enforces Sharia Law, is the main antagonist to Parvana's family (as he pettily gets her father arrested). Also, while Razaq has proven his bravery and selflessness, Idrees is a coward who only acts tough when harassing those weaker than him.
- Evil Is Petty: Idrees has Parvana's Baba taken to prison for the way he spoke to him in the market. This included telling him he can't marry Parvana and should stop looking at her if he thinks she should cover herself more.
- Gray Eyes: Type 2: cold, strong-willed, and unapproachable, with an "ideas above people" mentality.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: If there's a way not to provoke him into a screaming fit, we haven't seen it. He seems to look for any excuse to get righteously offended on behalf of the Taliban so he can dish out beatings, arrests, and even executions over the slightest (perceived) offense.
- Hate Sink: Idrees is a petty, hateful, spiteful man who abuses young boys trying to find work, makes advances towards preteen girls, and throws Parvana's father in prison under trumped up charges because he didn't like the way Nurullah spoke to him.
- He-Man Woman Hater: Fully embraces the Taliban belief that women should either cover themselves or Stay in the Kitchen, and is not above using physical violence to make his point.
- Knight Templar: His zealotry for enforcing the Taliban's interpretation of Sharia Law is only matched by his pettiness and cruelty.
- Large Ham: His over-the-top yelling and mannerisms would almost be funny if he wasn't so vile and dangerous.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Idrees, the hotheaded bully who likes intimidating the weak with his rifle, gets to prove his worth as the Taliban's soldier when his uncle sends him into a real battle. He's last seen riding off to war looking terrified, and it's implied he won't come back alive. Doubles as Be Careful What You Wish For.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: A major antagonist who constantly spouts anti-women rhetoric.
- Psycho for Hire: He's violently unhinged even by Tabliban standards, yet they put that zeal into bullying and killing for them.
- Psychopathic Manchild: His behaviour comes off as that of an angry toddler on a power trip.
- A Pupil of Mine, Until He Turned to Evil: To Nurullah, as he mentions how Idrees was his student in his class. Unfortunately, Idrees is now a member of the Taliban.
- Put on a Bus: Just as hes about to corner Parvana and Shauzia, his superiors call out to him, telling him that theyre being sent out to fight. He grudgingly gives up the chase.
- A Real Man Is a Killer: Just before he's carted off to fight in a war, his uncle proclaims that now he can prove himself a real man.
- Reckless Gun Usage: At one point, Idrees absent-mindedly points his rifle at an older Taliban fighter, earning himself a Dope Slap. And just a moment earlier, he accidentally pulled the trigger, firing a few automatic shots into the air.
- Would Hit a Girl: Chases Parvana and Shauzia with a machine gun, fully intending to kill them or worse .
An unnamed cousin of Fattemas who lives in Mazar-i-Sharif.
- Beard of Evil
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: When his car breaks down, he politely asks a passing motorist for help. Once they get it running, he goes back to angrily threatening Fattema and her children.
- Domestic Abuse: He makes his cousin and her children to come with him by force, and is not above threatening them with a knife to make his point.
- Evil Uncle: Technically second cousin, but otherwise played frightfully straight.
- Gray Eyes: The only other character besies Idrees with cold grey eyes, which further highlights his cruelty.
- He-Man Woman Hater: Clearly doesnt hold his female relatives in high regard.
- No Name Given: He's only known as "Cousin".
Parvanas deceased older brother. The family avoids talking about his passing, still overwhelmed by their grief and trauma.
- Boom in the Hand: He died when he picked up a grenade, thinking it was a toy.
- Cheerful Child
- Cool Big Bro: Shauzia mentions that Sulayman used to carry Parvana to school on his shoulders.
- Friend to All Living Things: And good thing too! It helps him so much on his journey.
- Idiot Hero: In the story, at least, he's not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he is brave and kind.
- Meaningful Name: Invoked by way of Parvanas story. In Islam, Sulayman (Solomon) is blessed with the ability to speak to animals. At the end of his quest, he talks down the Elephant King, confessing Parvanas grief in the process.
- Momma's Boy: Was clearly close to his mother in life.
- My Name Is Inigo Montoya: He keeps introducing himself when he confronts the Elephant King in Parvana's story.
- Non-Standard Character Design: Though we never see his "real" appearance, hes personified by the boy protagonist of Parvana's story. As a result, he appears in a distinct paper cutout style.
- Posthumous Character: He died some time before the story starts.
- Psychological Projection: Parvana imagines him as the main character of her story, though she couldnt admit it to herself until the very end.
- Rule of Symbolism: His journey through the fairy tale symbolises Parvana's own repressed grief over his death.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: It's implied he was very kind and cheerful when alive, and died picking up a toy in the streets.
- Tragic Mistake: "One day, he found a toy on the street. He picked it up. It exploded."