Sunday ReRun: Notebook, My Favorite Romance of 2019 (so far)

This is such a delightful little surprise of a movie! I really hope a lot of you were able to watch it. And if you weren’t, put it on your list to watch soon, because it is really wonderful.

Look at Salman Khan! Producing a really good movie! A good movie in every way, great story and script (lifted from a Thai film), good actors, good songs, good direction. And a nice small film too, a cheap film that can make a solid profit. It’s too bad everyone around the movie besides Salman was too freaking STUPID to appreciate it.

Image result for notebook 2019 poster

Here’s what irritates me. BollywoodHungama in their review said “NOTEBOOK is a niche, multiplex-type urban film”. Why? Why is it a niche multiplex type film? Because it isn’t filled with insane violence? Because it has pretty visuals and good songs? Because it has an intelligent plot? And “everyone” knows that poor people don’t like those things, poor people are dumb and only want anger and stupidity. If this film had gotten a decent promotional campaign and release, I am sure it could have found an audience and made a decent box office.

This is also showing why everyone casts star kids. If you made this same movie but with Janhvi and Tiger, it would have fixed all the promotion problems. The media would have written constant articles about the celebrity kids, twitter would be trending for or against them, and everyone would show up for this film out of curiosity to see how they did, and then end up enjoying it. Heck, that’s what happened with Salman’s Hero remake. But instead they made this movie with nice solid outsider actors (okay, Nutan’s granddaughter, but she wasn’t exactly instagramed her whole life), and paid the price in a total lack of publicity. Salman did his best, tweeting songs and stuff, but I didn’t see any news stories planted or much buzz anywhere. Except here! All you nice people nagged me and nagged me and I actually went to see the film and really really enjoyed it.

(This really is an awesome song, and very in keeping with the feel of the movie)

That’s the kind of movie it is. If you watch the trailers and the songs and you enjoyed the feel of them, you will also enjoy the movie. It’s the kind of nice small movie that would find an audience back in the old days when people actually watched trailers for themselves, instead of just listened to buzz and opinions about opinions. If Salman Khan’s film company can learn to keep up with the times and update their promotional strategies, and keep making good solid movies like this, Salman could maybe finally retire.

Okay, this is the No Spoiler review, but I am going to give a mini-spoiler. I spent this entire movie stressed, because it felt like the kind of film that would be happy and idyllic and simple, and then take a sudden turn for the tragic. And, it didn’t! There is no sad twist that you need to fear and wait for. Relax, enjoy the love, be happy.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Whole plot in one paragraph:

I love this plot, because the idea is so simple and so easily translatable to any time and place you need. Our hero Zaheer Iqbal is a young soldier feeling lost, he takes a job teaching at a one room school in Kashmir. He is bored and alone and starts reading a notebook left behind by the last teacher, a young woman Pranutan Bahl. Her experiences and thoughts inform his reactions, he bonds with the kids and starts to feel cleansed. He goes to the city to find her and learns she is engaged. He also learns that his kids are failing, because he isn’t a good enough teacher for them. So he offers to leave at the end of the term. Her engagement falls apart and she returns to teaching at the same school, and finds her notebook there with his notes added. She falls in love with him through the notes he left. And finally, he surprises her one day at school, showing up just in time to save her from a disgruntled parent. It ends with them having tea together on the porch of the school.

Image result for notebook 2019 poster

You could set this same plot in the American West, in present day American Alaska, in Thailand (where the original was set), basically any time or place that has a remote school. There’s something really significant and special about the one room school house and the teachers there. It combines the lonely reflectiveness of the hermitage, with the sacrificing personal growth of parenthood. It is unique to each person, and yet the rhythm of the school year gives it a universal pattern. This movie reminded me of Those Happy Golden Years, Laura Ingall Wilder’s memoir of her years teaching school. And Anne of Avonlea, about Anne Shirley teaching school. And all the other books I have read about that particular experience.

I kept waiting for the film to shift, I kept thinking “I should enjoy these adorable children and soft lessons about human kindness and doing the right thing, because it’s going to turn into a big drama any minute now”. And it never does! The most heroic thing and the most romantic thing our hero and heroine do is simply try to be good teachers and help these kids learn. It’s a lovely small simple lesson, that all you have to do is the caring thing, and that is heroic and romantic enough.

It’s especially lovely in context of the Kashmir setting, with a Hindu Pandit hero and a Muslim heroine. His family was thrown out of their homeland, and he reacted by coming back and teaching school. Her parents were killed, and she reacted by teaching school. The father of one of their students is disturbing, has a gun, seems odd. And they don’t call the police or the army on him, they just focus on wanting his son to have a chance to go to school. There’s a late in the film reveal that it was her father who helped protect his family, may have died doing it. It may be a tad too much of a coincidence, but then it is also about them both coming from the same place of violence and confusion, and both being raised to react with love instead of hate, so it makes sense that their parents would have known each other.

The underlying beauty of the film is in this lovely remote floating school house and the adorable children who come to it. But scattered on top is lots of fun drama. His first weekend off, Zaheer goes back to Srinagar to surprise his girlfriend, discovers she is seeing someone else, confronts the guy, and has a big fight scene with him (despite a broken arm). That’s fun! And then at her wedding, Pranutan overhears a pregnant woman confronting the groom about it being his baby, and dramatically sweets out in full bridal gear. That’s fun too! And there’s a storm and a dramatic break-up and all kinds of good stuff to keep you on your toes.

What I like most is the turn away from violence. It’s in every little detail of the characters and the story. For instance, the trauma our hero is recovering from is when a little boy crossed the border chasing sheep, Zaheer yelled at him to stop but it was too late, and he triggered a landmine. Zaheer didn’t shoot him for wrongfully crossing the border, or chase him because he was trying to arrest him, or anything stupid like that. Or the really stupid option, that the kid actually was a threat and Zaheer didn’t realize it. Straight through, Zaheer’s instinct was to try to protect the child, the only reason he was chasing him was because he wanted to protect him. And this is treated as normal and obvious and human. The film never even considers those darker possibilities.

Maybe this film should not have considered the possibility of Salman “singing” again

That’s why the final sequence is so alarming. This one student has a different kind of a father. He is silent, he carries his ax in a disturbing way, his children and wife seem nervous around him. But there is no violence shown, and it isn’t even clear what is happening in that house that is so disturbing. Does he not want his son to go to school because he is a Kashmiri separatist? Or does he not want his son to go to school because he wants to keep control of his family? Or does he not want it because he thinks there is no future in education and would rather his family maintain their traditional profession? The film never definitively answers that question, because it doesn’t really matter. This is an angry scared father who has no hope that his son could have a better life than he could. And that alone is terrifying, because this child matters, just like all children matter. It doesn’t have to be about anything bigger than that. And after having watched the rest of the film, we the audience know that Zaheer is willing to risk his life so this child can go to school. This is the moment when anything can happen.

But, thank goodness, nothing bad happens after all! This film gets a happy ending, and more importantly a hopeful ending. The father is talked down, and goes away, leaving his children to go to the school like they wanted to. These kids can go to school, the couple can get together, and Kashmir can find peace, one small step at a time.

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15 thoughts on “Sunday ReRun: Notebook, My Favorite Romance of 2019 (so far)

  1. I saw the movie but will comment tomorrow because it’s almost midnight here and I’m exhausted.

    P.S I retweet your review as soon as I saw it and Pranutan Bahl liked it. I wish she retweeted it for others 😦

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    • Thank you for retweeting! I’m glad she knows there are two of us who really like this movie.

      On Sun, Jun 9, 2019 at 4:44 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Zaheer Iqbal also liked the tweet 🙂 so we can say now that the director and the main couple know we loved their film.

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  2. I really liked this film for many reasons:
    First, it was just like the trailer promised – a good romantic story with beautiful visuals, and it would be enough for me to like it, but there was so much more. The kids are adorable, the music very good. It was a very pleasant film to watch with family. In fact, my son watched it with me (I had to explain to him what is going on because the subtitles were in english), and he was interested in kids plot.
    What I liked the most was the heroine because she was mature, intelligent and strong but also kind. And I loved this little detail how her tattoo represented who she is, and when she removed it and tried to change herself it was no good for her.

    I read some reviews now, and some of them are so stupid. One of the “critics” said the movie was interesting to some point but then the plot was outdated because the hero should have just search heroine’s name on fb and meet her! I think this guy should just search for a new job because he sucks as a critic.

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    • Now that I think about it, I wonder if that is why the film was set slightly in the past? Long enough back that there is no cell coverage or internet available to him unless he has a 3 day leave to go into the city, and long enough that it might not be a guarantee you can find someone on Facebook or where ever? Mostly though that critic is an idiot. It’s such a delicate love story, of course the hero and heroine are delicate about how they want to meet each other.

      Agree about the heroine. The same could be said about the hero, he could easily have been some stupid Tiger Shroff style action hero, but instead he is a thoughtful caring person who is struggling to do his best in a situation he is not suited for. I also liked that they both weren’t shockingly attractive. We can believe the heroine has a fiance and isn’t like hideous, but we can also see that she isn’t someone folks usually fall in love with at first sight. Same with the hero, he is a nice guy and is handsome enough, but he isn’t stop traffic stunning. Now that I think about it, they were both cheated on by their partners with someone who was more conventionally attractive. It’s very different from the usual macho hero and lightheaded heroine.

      On Mon, Jun 10, 2019 at 4:38 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I saw Notebook last night because of your post and I thought it was nice. It wasn’t great but it was a nice and sweet movie with good songs. I was surprised that this was produced by Salman because I don’t remember this movie being promoted or coming out at all. The talk around this movie was practically non-existent compared to Hero or Loveyatri. I’m glad I ended up watching it though 🙂

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    • Yes exactly, a nice sweet movie with good songs. Not great, but better than a lot of other films that came out. I’m glad my recommendation got you to see it!

      On Mon, Jun 10, 2019 at 1:24 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. I had been meaning to watch this movie but just hadn’t had a chance until yesterday. What a wonderful movie! I echo Angie’s comment, I loved Pranutan’s character so much for precisely the same reason. Also, it was so nice to see the heroine have agency and independence and a hero without the toxic machismo. I was also mesmerized by the scenery. The films seems to be clearly shot by a photographer. Definitiely one of those movies that will be a repeat watch any time I just want to feel happy.

    My only very minor issue was the dead body. I am generally VERY averse to gross/scary scenes and that creeped me out. I still haven’t watched Stree because I imagine it will freak me out!

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    • So glad you liked and watched it!

      It’s interesting, the film is definitely from the perspective of the male character. But he falls in love with the heroine for what she is, her strength and kindness and intelligence, so that when we see her through his eyes, we see all those things. It’s not a movie that passes the Bechdel test, or has any of those other obvious signs of a full formed female character, but the way he sees her lets us see her fully. And also shows the way a man should see a woman, for everything she is, not just her appearance.

      On Tue, Jun 11, 2019 at 12:01 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Oh, the body! I forgot about that scene. Didn’t like it in the beginning but then I thought it added a lot to the movie. The things those poor kids must witness. It made me love them even more.

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      • I agree. It added a lot, I just wish I had known about it so I could close my eyes when it happened :-). But again, I am a wuss.

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        • I’m the same! It was awful, and I hate this kind of scenes. And I also hated the witch in Stree, she was terrible. Not scary scary but very unpleasant to watch and I was closing my eyes every time she was on screen.

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