Tag Archives: Nitin Kakkar

Movie Review: Notebook (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Notebook on Amazon Prime

A reluctant teacher at a remote schoolhouse finds a diary left by his predecessor, leading him to fall in love with the author and the profession of teaching in the charming drama Notebook.

Based on Thailand’s entry for Best Foreign Language film at the 2014 Oscars — The Teacher’s DiaryNotebook sets its story in Kashmir in 2008. Kabir (Zaheer Iqbal) is struggling to readjust to civilian life, following a stint in the army that ended when he inadvertently caused a child’s death. Haunted and directionless, he’s summoned to his ancestral home in Srinagar by his uncle. The elementary school Kabir’s deceased father founded is in danger of closing because it has no teacher, and Kabir agrees to fill in, despite his lack of experience.

The school is a collection of small buildings built on rafts, lashed together and floating on a wide lake. Though the school is six hours from the nearest town and only accessible by boat, it offers the only educational opportunity for children in the region. The gorgeous setting is an ideal place for introspection, but Kabir finds the practicalities hard to handle. There’s no cell network, running water, or electricity. A frog lives in the cistern.

Kabir’s students don’t make his job easy on him, disappointed as they are at the loss of their beloved teacher, Firdaus (Pranutan Bahl). After a disastrous first day, Kabir almost calls it quits, until he finds a diary Firdaus left behind. Her writings and drawings give Kabir insight into his students, and they lead him to fall in love with her — or at least with who he imagines her to be. Yet even as he immerses himself in the lives of his students, the camera often shoots Kabir through windows or reflected in mirrors, while flashbacks of Firdaus feature her fully in frame. The technique symbolizes Kabir’s yet unrealized sense of self and his still-developing connection to the school.

Notebook is whimsical in the best possible ways. There’s the novelty of a love story involving two people who’ve neither met nor seen each other. The school’s isolation forces both Firdaus and Kabir to embrace what’s truly important to them, and in doing so, steers them toward each other. Then there’s the school’s magical setting, floating on a lake covered in lily pads and surrounded by mountains. It’s straight out of a fairy tale.

Notebook released theatrically in the spring of 2019, several months before the Indian government cut off Kashmir’s cell network and internet access (which has been ongoing for over a month at the time of this writing). A boatman who ferries Kabir to the school explains that the unreliable cell phone network only works “when weather is good and peace prevails,” hinting at the region’s long-standing instability.

While the film isn’t political to the point of taking sides, it depicts the suffering of the people who live there. Every character in Notebook is traumatized by violence and death, including the children. Kabir’s undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder points to the fact that soldiers in the region are vulnerable to psychological damage as well. The constant military presence and threat of militant action creates an unhealthy situation for everyone living there.

Director Nitin Kakkar is the right person to tell this touching love story set in a fraught region, giving the main narrative its due while providing thoughtful context on its surroundings. Kakkar showed his capabilities with the 2012 comedy Filmistaan, in which a kidnapped Indian man doesn’t realize he’s been brought to Pakistan because of the strong similarities between both countries and their citizens. Notebook is just as sensitive in the way it stresses its characters’ shared humanity.

Iqbal and Bahl acquit themselves well in their film debuts, giving Kabir and Firdaus enough warmth to sustain Notebook‘s romantic feel, even though their characters spend little time together on-screen. They help to create a movie that is sweet yet substantial, and gorgeous to look at.

Sources

Advertisements

Movie Review: Filmistaan (2012)

Filmistaan3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon

There’s a great line in Filmistaan that sums up the frustrating nature of the tension that has persisted between India and Pakistan since Partition in 1947. The film’s kidnapped Indian protagonist, Sunny (Sharib Hashmi), is surprised at being told he’s been secretly brought to Pakistan: “The food, the people all look the same. How would I know?”

That theme of commonality runs throughout Filmistaan. The movie beautifully makes its point that manufactured borders can’t erase the cultural similarities that unite the people of India and Pakistan, and that it’s the average citizens of both countries who pay the price for ongoing hostility.

Sunny is the consummate regular guy. He’s an out-of-shape, out-of-work wannabe actor who admits he doesn’t have the chops to make it in Bollywood. But he persists, taking the job of Assistant Director as a way into the industry.

On assignment with an American film crew, Sunny is kidnapped near the Pakistan border in Rajasthan. The militants leave him with a pair of guards in a small village across the border, hoping to nab the more valuable Americans on a second try.

Sunny endears himself to the village children with his impressions of Bollywood stars. His love for film sparks a friendship with Aftaab (Inaamulhaq), a movie buff and DVD pirate. And Sunny’s sheer ordinariness leads the younger of his two captors, Jawaad (Gopal Dutt), to question why they’re holding him in the first place.

Jawaad’s willingness to question orders — in stark contrast to his devout compatriot, Mehmood (Kumud Mishra) — gets at one of the movie’s other themes: the crippling effect of a lack of opportunities in Pakistan. The only reason Jawaad joined the militants and the only reason Aftaab is a film pirate and not a filmmaker is because of a lack of opportunity, caused primarily by the closed border with India and the zealots like Mehmood who want to keep it closed.

Filmistaan is hopeful about the prospects that young people from both countries will someday cast aside national hostilities in exchange for a future built on shared goals and cultural history. The subtlety with which it conveys this message through its story and characters heightens its impact.

Since Filmistaan is also a celebration of the movies, it excels in all the necessary ways. The acting is top-notch. Sets are stark and evocative, thanks to writer-director Nitin Kakkar and cinematographer Subhransu. The soundtrack is terrific.

The story builds to a cinematic climax that sadly doesn’t allow for the emotional payoff one would hope for. Given the effort that went into making the audience care deeply about the characters, the ending needed to be more cathartic.

Still, that doesn’t negate the great journey that Filmistaan takes the audience on. This is a unique and enjoyable film worth seeing.

Links