Monday, 30th October 2017

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Notebook impresses more as a travelogue than a love story

Adapted from the Thai film Teacher’s Diary, the film remains largely faithful to the original

  • Published 30.03.19, 2:04 AM
  • Updated 30.03.19, 2:04 AM
  • 3 mins read
Zaheer Iqbal and Pranutan Bahl in Notebook A still from the film

There is an old-world charm about Notebook that one wouldn’t find in the love stories of today. A young man, doing duty as a teacher in an isolated, run-down school in the middle of nowhere, finds himself gradually falling with love with the girl who had taught the same class before him — through the daily scribbles in her personal diary aka notebook that she’s left behind in a dusty drawer.

It’s a charming premise in the era of Tinder and Twitter, and it all unfolds against the stunning backdrop of Kashmir’s pristine lakes, snow-kissed peaks and flaming chinar trees. But is an unconventional romance told in a time-stands-still format enough to hold the viewer’s attention consistently for close to two hours? Not quite.

Adapted from the Thai film Teacher’s Diary, Notebook remains largely faithful to the original, while transposing the story to Kashmir to provide a meaty socio-political background to its two debutants.

Zaheer Iqbal plays Kabir, a former army man who is ridden with guilt for having failed to save a child from a landmine blast. Haunted by the demons of his past, Kabir decides to opt for a job as a teacher in a school situated in the middle of a lake that has a princely total of five students. Thrown in at the deep end at first, Kabir finds his new job frustrating and his existence lonely and dull. Till he chances upon Firdaus’s (Pranutan Bahl) personal diary, where she had poured her loneliness, frustration and her philosophy of life, when she was doing the same job a year ago. It’s this notebook that becomes a lifeline for Kabir and he finds himself evolving into a better teacher — and a better person — through Firdaus’s handwritten musings.

Notebook is a one-line idea stretched to a 112-minute film. Director Nitin Kakkar, who impressed on debut with the campy Filmistaan a few years ago, attempts to amp up the wafer-thin premise by weaving in the politics of the region — cries of “azaadi” rend the air, children are seen giving up books for guns and natives are hounded out of their own homes.

The leads belong to opposite sides of the socio-political divide in Kashmir, adding an interesting context to the film. Firdaus is a Muslim, whose father had sacrificed all that he had to ensure the safety of his Kashmiri Pandit friend, who was Kabir’s father. But the love story, the primary thread of the film, doesn’t have the tone and texture to engage the audience beyond a point.

The theme of love across different dimensions and timelines may remind one of the 2006 Keanu Reeves-Sandra Bullock film The Lake House, but most of Notebook is too literal to have the same impact.

The uni-dimensional narrative means that the film tends to feel repetitive after a point, especially when it comes to the bits where Kabir discovers Firdaus through the pages of her notebook.

While Kakkar thankfully desists from conventional tropes of romance — no song and dance routines here — the shakiness of Zaheer Iqbal’s performance means that he needs to be often projected as a ‘hero’. So there’s an absolutely unnecessary sequence for the young man to show off his ‘action chops’ and another where he suddenly breaks into a jig to the remixed version of the Mission Kashmir hit Bumro. Not to mention the grating background score by Julius Packiam that pointlessly amplifies Iqbal’s walk and talk.

Pranutan Bahl — yesteryear actress Nutan’s granddaughter — fares much better, blessed as she is with an impactful screen presence. The performance is a little raw, but Pranutan shows a lot of promise. The real star acts come from the bunch of knee-high actors — the most notable among them being Mir Mohammad Mehroos as Imran.

In the end, it’s only achingly beautiful Kashmir — shot masterfully by Manoj Kumar Khatoi — that stays with you. Maybe producer Salman Khan would do well to market Notebook as a travelogue rather than a love story.