Notebook has an unremarkable lead pair, an underwhelming dull love story in which the actors don’t share the screen for nearly the entire duration of the narrative, some of the most ravishing views of Kashmir yet, a bunch of adorable children and a soundtrack with a few good tunes.
The mathematics almost works in the favour of Nitin Kakkar’s movie, his third since his warmly received debut Filmistaan (2012). Notebook is an official remake of the Thai movie The Teacher’s Diary (2014), and centres on a book of doodles and musings. It has been left behind in the school floating on a lake by the previous teacher, Firdaus (Pranutan Bahl). The diary provides guidance and comfort to Kabir (Zaheer Iqbal), who is Firdaus’s replacement.
Kabir falls for Firdaus one page at a time as he reads about her unusual teaching methods and her entanglement with a domineering boyfriend. After an initial struggle with his pupils, who miss Firdaus’s superior pedagogical methods, Kabir manages to win their hearts. But it’s time to leave and for Firdaus to return. As she finds her diary again, she realises that Kabir has filled out the remaining pages with his feelings for her.
The Thai movie was a clever riff on the epistolary romance, and some of its best bits have been faithfully transported to Notebook. The Hindi adaptation attempts a balancing act between peddling a tourist’s view of Kashmir and acknowledging the problems that the state has faced during its long, bloody autonomy movement. Kabir is a former Indian Army soldier, burnt by the inadvertent death of a child, and his Kashmiri Pandit background is an added layer in his engagement with the school. Firdaus yearns for personal freedom, and attempts to do the right thing by a student with a fundamentalist father.
The most memorable takeaway about Kashmir, however, is visual. The movie is bursting with some of the most eye-watering views of the Valley captured on film yet. Cinematographer Manoj Kumar Khatoi finds memorable frames in every location, be it the gentle lake on which the isolated school floats or the snow-capped mountains that loom in the distance.
Nitin Kakkar, who has written the dialogue for Darab Farooqui’s adapted screenplay along with Payal Ashar, liberally uses long shots to overcome the inability of his debutant lead pair to carry off a romance that plays out in two distinctive time zones. It doesn’t pay to mourn the wooden performances of the leads when there is always a lovely view of the Valley available or ridiculously cute children running around. Location is everything, the dictum goes, and it applies firmly to Notebook, injecting a suggestion of sublimity into a stilted romance with simplistic politics.