Salman Khan Films and Cine1Studios present “Notebook”
Produced by: Salma Khan, Murad Khetan & Ashwin Varde
Directed by: Nitin Kakkar
Written by: Darab Farooqui, Sharib Hashmi & Payal Ashar Chohan from the original screenplay by Sopana Chaowwiwatkul, Supalerk Ningsanond, Nithiwat Tharatorn & Thodsapon Thiptinnakorn
Music: Vishal Mishra
Starring: Pranutan Bahl, Zaheer Iqbal, Mir Mehrooz, Mir Zayaan, Baba Hatim, Adiba Bhat, Soliha Maqbool, Hafsa Ashraf, Bareen Faheem, Mozim Bhat, Mir Sarwar, Hemant Kher, Shrysh Zutshi, Farhana Bhatt, Nilofer, Saniya Mir, Shahid Lateef, Shahid Gulfam, Ahmed
MUMBAI— When not going all-out mainstream, there is always a thin dividing line between a niche film and a mass movie. Add superb music, and we cross from one zone to the other smoothly. The film remains what it is, but the people take to it in a big way.
Salman Khan’s latest musical protégé, Vishal Mishra, is a far cry from his earlier discoveries, and his music here, with guitar-based compositions (the bane of today’s film music, IMHO) and the omnipresent rock guitar, thus lacks in the genuine melodic quotient and the soul so needed for a mass connect. Yes, at a superficial level, two or three songs may have been transiently liked by GenY, but that is not of significant consequence. In the days when physical music sales were there, the sales of this music would have been way below average. On the plus side, Mishra’s background score is skilled.
In short, but for the well-executed “Bumro” (the old folk number from Kashmir earlier heard in a different and less impressive version in “Mission Kashmir”), the remaining songs do not make a lasting impression. “Nai Lagda,” for example, is a standing example of how an inherently good composition and its mood (lyrics included) can be ruined beyond repair by a needlessly screechy high-pitched rendition and raucous instrumentation dominated by the rock-guitar.
But for the songs (so important for ANY love story, and especially of debuting actors), the film is a cute, sweet and simple tale with a difference: the two people in love meet only in the last few minutes of this 115-minute film.
Adapted from a 2014 Thai film, “Notebook” works on its sheer innocence, and the Kashmir backdrop (with subtle references as well as reminders of terrorism, gender disparity, education being considered unimportant even for boys, and a hint of sympathy for displaced Kashmiri Pandits) is excellently interpolated into the saga of two teachers. Kabir, in short, falls in love with Firdaus, whom he has never met, through the notebook she has left behind when she leaves school, and he replaces her.
Happily, there is no bloodshed (synonymous with Kashmir stories now), but for a needless and almost farcical fight sequence earlier. Direction Nitin Kakkar does a decent job overall, but he and his writers goof up on some crucial points: the opening sequence of the dream that Kabir (Zaheer Iqbal) has should have been explained earlier, and better. This was needed also because we have almost forgotten that sequence since the film goes on a completely different track.
Another glaring loophole is that Imran (Mir Mehrooz) returns to school with a small girl, but that girl is not seen when his father comes to pick him up! The simple notebook, too, is a superman as it survives both water (overnight) and fire. Last but not least, Firdaus writes the diary in Roman rather than in Hindi for weird reasons. A teacher should have been surely more Hindi-literate!
Above all, we find it a bit illogical again that students come and go every day, but the teacher(s) has to stay there, that too minus a single helper even in daytime, and as we are informed, without gas, water, electricity or network!
Kakkar’s midstream sensibilities come to the fore as the viewer gets a shade confused occasionally between real and fantasy and his narrative technique. But the film still goes well past the pass mark because of its pure soul. Technically awesome (the cinematography by Manoj Kumar Khatoi is magical, and sadly, I think we are well past the sell-by date of Kashmir being a tourist paradise, as captured by brightly-lensed films like “Jab Jab Phool Khile” (1965), “Roti” (1974) and others). A special word also for the brilliant production design by newbies Urvi Ashar Kakkar and Shipra Rawal – the sets are detailed and nice.
Brushing aside such uncomfortable questions, the film still connects with the heart and soul of those who will come to watch it. The story is sweetly narrated, the child artistes doing fantastically, especially Mehrooz as Imran and Adiba Bhat as Dua, The supporting actors shine, especially Mir Sarwar as Imran’s father and the old man (who resembles Kulbhushan Kharbanda, whose name we did not get). Ahmed, who plays a brief role as Kabir in childhood, is super expressive because of his eyes.
Zaheer Iqbal, as Kabir, gets much more footage, and is likable, and has a slight resemblance to Hrithik Roshan, who also seems to be his role-model in acting. But it is Pranutan Bahl who steals the show as Firdaus. A complete natural and a smooth actress, she shows a super grasp of her character. Two sequences show what she is capable of: one, where one of her students teases her while she is thinking of Kabir, whom she has never met, and two, the expression in her eyes when she finally sees him face-to-face for the first time.
This is a sweet and simple film reminding us of the best days of Basu Chaterjee, though he never did a love story with such a backdrop. But then again, his films, most of the time, had melodious music that has stood the test of time and helped the films do that.