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Notebook Review: Newbies Zaheer Iqbal and Pranutan Bahl shine in Salman Khan’s soft romance

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Film: Notebook Cast: Zaheer Iqbal and Pranutan Bahl Director: Nitin Kakar Rating: 4 Moons

Notebook is hot buttered toast and steaming coffee on a rainy afternoon. A film that’s like comfort food for the soul. Simply written, beautifully shot in Kashmir, with every frame a treat for the eyes, the story so delightfully uncomplicated that you know from miles away what’s going to come – but Notebook yet manages to leave you with a satisfying, feel-good emotion at the end. It’s like staying home from school on a sick day and reading Enid Blyton in bed.

It’s a tribute to Salman Khan, under whose banner Notebook was made, that given the action films he’s used to doing himself, he went ahead and produced this soft romance by introducing two newcomers and a supporting cast of young Kashmiri children with no big name for backup. Notebook is a commendable remake of the Thai film Teacher’s Diary. Almost frame by frame. Salman added muscle to the film not by making an expected guest appearance, but by lending his fetching singer’s voice to the soulful track Main Taare in between.

An ex-Army man named Kabir (Zaheer Iqbal) escaping from a bad relationship and his violent past accepts an offer to teach in a remote primary school based on a dilapidated houseboat somewhere in Kashmir. There he finds a notebook of life’s lessons left behind by the previous teacher Firdaus (Pranutan Bahl) – a feisty but sensitive young woman banished from her city school for refusing to remove her tattoo. She’s dealing with a complex, possessive suitor herself. Kabir becomes attracted to Firdaus and adds to her notebook with his own story. When he leaves, she returns and reads his posts and a mutual attraction develops.

The highpoint of Notebook is that Kabir and Firdaus don’t meet till the very end and you’re not anxious for them to do. But director Nitin Kakkar captivates the viewer by running parallel stories of their lives on his beautiful Kashmir canvas. It reminds you of Sirf Tum in 1999 starring Sanjay Kapoor and Priya Gill in which the lead pair fall in love without meeting till the end. While Sirf Tum was shored up by the presence of Salman Khan, Jackie Shroff and Sushmita Sen, Notebook has a handful of rosy-cheeked Kashmiri kids whose innocence and honesty shines in their light eyes. Their chemistry with Kabir and Firdaus at different times is touchingly portrayed.

There’s a lot that may not be right in Notebook but you’re willing to overlook this because Kashmir is so heart-achingly beautiful in Kakkar’s film that it takes your focus and breath away. This is not the troubled Kashmir of Bollywood films like Haider, Fanaa, Dil Se, Roja, and Jab Tak Hai Jaan that all had terrorism in the Valley as their story. The Kashmir in Notebook is prettier than in a picture book. The snow-capped peaks and lovely dark lakes are there. But not like you’ve seen before. These are all virgin locations with colour palettes that change according to the season and time of the day and lend to the cinematography. Look out for the drone shots that capture the majesty and grandeur of the Valley on a simple day when the kids are flying kites.

Vishal Mishra’s music and the background score by Julius Packiam especially in the songs Laila and Nai Lagda are tenderly done to flow with the emotions of the film. It’s amazing, this is a modern day tale, the insurgency in the Valley is not part of the film but reflects in the closed faces and mirrored eyes of the people, and yet you’re not threatened by it. And finally, there are the refreshingly earnest and shining performances by newbies Zaheer Iqbal and Pranutan Bahl that carries Notebook to its storybook end. They couldn’t have got a better launch to their Bollywood careers. You can only think of them as Kabir and Firdaus.

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