Kashmir’s soulful beauty seems so far removed from its volatile reality; it’s easy to believe a quiet love story could blossom here between an individual and a stranger’s diary. Much in the vein of recent Kashmir stories, Laila Majnu and Hamid, the troubled paradise is a photogenic metaphor for Notebook‘s isolated imagery and persisting hopes.
Director Nitin Kakkar’s official adaptation of the Thai drama, Teacher’s Diaryretains the serene, meditative ambience of its source, but colours it, if only mildly, in the aftermath of a region’s longstanding conflict.
Exodus of Kashmiri Hindus, rampant militancy, sight of army men strewn all across Srinagar and locals lamenting the lack of upbeat ‘mausam‘ and ‘mahaul‘ mark the proceedings in a manner that depicts them as more damaged than destructive. It’s only natural it opens with a character waking up from a bad dream.
Sadly, Notebook‘s more introspective and humane aspects remain confined to the backdrop to accommodate a lacklustre romance.
Kabir (Zaheer Iqbal) is a soldier who quits the army and takes up a teacher’s post in a remotely located, rickety houseboat school. A handful of apple-cheeked students, of varying age and academic requirements, show up and the customary ‘starting off on the wrong foot’ ensues until all’s well that ends well.
The new teacher discovers Firdaus (Pranutan Bahl), his predecessor’s diary — more like a tween’s autograph book full of cute doodles and poems — and is drawn to her so-called original thoughts. Especially the bit about darkness cannot drive darkness. Clearly, neither has ever heard of Martin Luther King Jr.
Considering the duo don’t meet for most part, Notebook abruptly veers off to squeeze in an awkward comic track featuring Kabir’s cheating girlfriend or forewarn us about the growing incompatibility between Firdaus and her fiancé. The coast is clear, but do we care?
A little charm from the debuting actors and Notebook would actually be worthy of note. Too bad they’re stiff as stick.
Pranutan is expressionless and Zaheer’s got big eyes — there’s a scene where they grow so big, I feared they might fall off. But that’s about it.
Of its predominantly Kashmiri cast, the kids are simply adorable. The few times the focus is on their innocence, mischief and desire for education, Notebookbecomes the film you want to see.
But Kakkar’s compulsion to showcase the passive affections between its expressionless leads insists we watch a gazillion solo shots of the two gazing into the stunning landscapes or silky sunsets one song after another.
It’s all very music video-y, where the soundtrack is lilting but the sentiment falls short.
What doesn’t is the photography. Manoj Kumar Khatoi’s camerawork is a treat for the eyes. Arresting visuals of wooden houses, poetic lakes, snug boats, chinar gardens and imposing mountains create an elegant, mystical mood.
More photobook than notebook, this.