Notebook Kashmir: Film on children in an abandoned school

I watched this new Hindi film 2019 premiering on TV titled ‘Notebook’. Had no clue what to expect, had not seen any reviews on it and it had a cast whom at first I strained to recognize and then gave up! Later checking out a review I found the film was new and so was the cast, Pranatun Bahl and Zahir Iqbal, directed by Nitin Kakker.

Sunset over Dal Lake, Kashmir

The film is about a primary school with 7 kids. Situated in the middle of a lake it is abandoned by the concerned education department. It had one committed lady teacher, who is forced to leave by her more practical fiancee. A young retired army officer, son of a Kashmiri Pandit who had started this school comes to continue his father’s work. He discovers a Notebook in which the earlier teacher was recording life at the school. Through this notebook we learn about the life of the kids in Kashmir, the state of education and the lack of interest of the education department leading to the dilapidated condition of the school. He takes over and tries to sort out the problems of the kids and lack of interest of the parents in schooling and the government in the school.

He continued to write in the Notebook and later leaves the school. The circle is completed as the earlier lady teacher re-emerges and finds the Notebook with the recordings of life in the school after she left. The last scene is dramatic and resolves a major problem of one of the kids in a rather fairy tale style!

While the presentation is a typical ‘filmy’ Hindi movie, what kept me glued to it was the subtle depiction of a life gone awry in the valley. Notebook is about children in an abandoned primary school in Kashmir. The story of kids wanting to study, but caught in this strange sociopolitical situation unfolding before them. It is about Kashmiri Pandits who were displaced and had to abandon their homes, lives and passions. The scene in the Delhi Public School reveals the extremes in the functioning of the education system in the state. The Delhi Public School is a posh, well-functioning school with huge resources, including a swimming pool, compared to the abandoned primary school where the protagonists of the film study. These extremes of resources, and quality of education is true for various states in the country, but here it felt unreal.

The Economist in me was also fascinated by the nuanced depiction of the state of the economy. We had visited Kashmir in happy times, when life had limped back to normalcy. I share here my account of it in my earlier blog post. Life on the Dal Lake was amazing to watch as we stayed on a houseboat. A whole city lived and worked on the lake!

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