Director: Nitin Kakkar
Cast: Zaheer Iqbal, Pranutan Bahl
Notebook is a film that is difficult to take your eyes off from. Not because of how engaging it is, but because of the sheer beauty of its visuals.
The cinematic beauty of the film is well established in the opening sequence that had the chase between an armed army man, Zaheer, and a child who crosses the border to fetch his sheep.
Adapted from a Thai film, Teacher’s Diary (2014) directed by Nithiwat Tharathorn, the basic storyline is the same which unfolds in the first 15 minutes.
The film feels like a struggle between what is associated with mainstream and elements that wanted to make it more than just that.
The story itself is hard to believe; perhaps that’s why setting it up on a remote island boat (Dal Lake in Kashmir) with children as an active foil to make the plot more believable, was the only option.
The dialogues which come in the form of some poetic moments from the diary, which belongs to Firdaus (a school teacher, played by Pranutan Bahl), try hard to set the tone of the film but their expressions felt more like Chicken Soup for the Soul.
The attempt to break the fourth wall, with Firdaus’ statutory warning that made the screen freeze for a moment was punctured by the film’s narration itself. That line, “Thank you, universe,” was the be-end of that which had the potential to become something.
Zaheer Iqbal’s heartbreak sequence was classic and using the old Hindi song, Acha Sila Dia Toone Mere Pyaar Ke in the backdrop of the sequence was fun, which again was punctured by an all-of-a-sudden heavy action sequence that was not really required. It was simply out of place.
Director Nitin Kakkar was trying to add layers to the film. There was no attempt to show a sanitized political territory, but the subtle presence of military personnel in the Kashmir valley in the opening song sequence, Zaheer’s army flashbacks, one of the school-kids’ father’s story – all were touch-ups on the disputed territory and the debates surrounding it.
The way it was addressed, in a love-all-humanity style, was similar to Filmistaan.
But the struggle between trying to make the film something and the effort to keep it commercial was very desperate; best personified when Zaheer who plays a makeshift teacher in a makeshift boat school begins to dance to Bumro with seven school kids. The setting of the song was very different and the attempt was futile. It made the feel of the film like it was centered on showing that Zaheer can dance, act and do action sequence as well.
There are these lessons in the diary, which as mentioned earlier are like self-help lessons that feel more like tasks and life-lessons that Pranutan chalks out for Zaheer, who redeems himself by fulfilling them.
The militancy training in the Valley is also mentioned. Both, Kabir and Firdaus act as saviours of a child (Imran) whose father does not want him to study but get into training. The film is in short, about do-gooders.
The actor took his own line, “Pyaar mein insaan bawla ho jata hai,” way too seriously. He was mostly dazed and confused in his performance. Pranutan tried to do her bit with the role that was written for her.
To clear the path for Firdaus’ and Kabir’s friendship-romance to flourish, the clichéd trope of getting a pregnant woman on the nikkah day to annul the marriage between Firdaus and a childhood romance, Junaid was a bad ploy.
The film towards its climax brought the Kashmiri Pandits issue to the fore. It also used a cathartic scene between Imran, his father and Kabir that took a different take on Kashmiri militancy, solving the issue through a “humane” approach. Moreover, throwing the gun into the water would remind one of Filmistaan’s climax.
The film feels like a story out of place, rendered in a society on a fantastic island where innocence and to-do-only-good are the epithets of life as we say it.