Banners: Salman Khan Films, Cine1 Studios
Producers: Salma Khan, Murad Khetani, Ashwin Varde
Director: Nitin Kakkar
Cast: Zaheer Iqbal, Pranutan Bahl, Mir Mohammed Mehroos, Mir Mohammed Zayan, Soliha Maqbool, Baba Hatim, Adiba Bhat, Hafsa Ashraf, Mozim Bhat
Writers: Darab Farooqi (Screenplay), Sharib Hashmi, Payal Ashar (Dialogue)
Music: Vishal Mishra
Old world charm. Love letters. The beauty of waiting. Wind chimes made of paper birds swaying in the breeze. Blue skies. Bluer waters. A wooden house. And a notebook. Nitin Kakkar’s Notebook is all this and more.
Gone are the days when secrets of the heart and the soul were hidden in the pages of dairies. But this film is like a gossamer dream that reminds you of all things bright and colourful preserved in the pages of a classic romantic novel. It is like a fairy tale – there is beauty, there is a knight and there is a beast – except that this tale is about the boy and the girl who live next door and rooted in reality, a reality rife with separation, solitude, longing and the politics of Kashmir.
Set in Kashmir in 2008, Notebook is the story of Kabir and Firdaus. Kabir is an ex-armyman who gets a phone call one day to return to his house in Shivpora, Srinagar. He goes there to find out that the Wular Public School that was headed by his late father, known as Panditji, is now under the government. The school needs a new teacher or else it will be shut forever.
Left with no other choice, he decides to give it a shot. The school is attended by five children named Shama, Iqrah, Dua, Waqar and Tariq. There he bumps into a diary that has entries by Firdaus, a teacher who taught these children in 2007. Her notes help him cope with his new life away from the city and improve his relationship with the children.
With time, Kabir begins to fall in love with Firdaus. We get glimpses of her life through flashbacks, where we learn a little about her childhood, her impending wedding and more. Whether they meet or not forms the rest of the story.
Notebook is like a pretty canvas filled with paintings of the lush green valley, snow-covered highlands, a bright blue sky, dark blue waters and chinar-carpeted red forests. Manoj Kumar Khatoi’s lenses frame the landscapes of Kashmir so spectacularly that the valley looks almost surreal. Every shot is visual poetry. The film is peppered with aerial shots of boats cutting through the still waters. They are awe-inspiring. The visuals of the first song Safar deserve a special mention. They treat you to the valley in all its glory.
The film enjoys a languorous pace. While it favours the overall mood of the film in the first half, it tends to bother towards the end of the second half. At one point, the presence of too many slow motion sequences might make you a tad restless. Intertwining two similar narratives is a tricky affair. But editor Shachindra Vats does a phenomenal job and keeps you glued to the screen, for the most part.
Despite keeping the impending romance as the fulcrum of the story, writer Darab Farooqi does not shy away from giving us glimpses into the pathos of the valley. It touches upon several socio-political issues plaguing Kashmir by subtly conveying the importance of education without resorting to a loud and preachy screenplay.
The writing renders a poetic quality and a smooth texture to the film. The writers and director build a sense of anticipation, leaving you wondering whether the protagonists ultimately meet. With Notebook, Kakkar proves that he is a name to reckon with.
For any poetry in motion to shine, music is an essential ingredient. In fact, music is one of the strongest points of Notebook. It acts as a catalyst and does not break the flow of the narrative. Kashmiri folk song Bumro will remain with you long after you have left the theatre.
It is not every day that we get to watch a film that celebrates the lost art of expression. It reminds one of simpler times. The characters are so well fleshed out that we are left anticipating the life that awaits them. The notebook, which has survived the extreme forces of nature, comes alive in the story. It becomes a pacifier, a confidant, a companion and a ray of hope for both Kabir and Firdaus.
In their debut performances, Zaheer Iqbal and Pranutan Bahl sparkle. Iqbal plays the tough and yet endearing Kabir with ease. He has an impressive screen presence and makes you root for him. Bahl as Firdaus plays a headstrong girl, a vulnerable fiancée and a loving teacher with unflinching grace and dignity. She seamlessly transitions between them. The children, Mir Mohammed Mehroos, Mir Mohammed Zayan, Soliha Maqbool, Baba Hatim, Adiba Bhat and Hafsa Ashraf, are a sheer delight to watch. They melt your heart. The scenes shared by Iqbal and Bahl with them are pure gold. Mozim Bhat as Junaid is decent.
Verdict: Worth a dekho!