Filmmaker Nitin Kakkar talks to Titas Chowdhury about creating visual poetry with Notebook, working with producer Salman Khan and newcomers Zaheer Iqbal and Pranutan Bahl
From the trailer of Notebook, it seems like Kashmir is not merely a backdrop in the film. It almost comes alive as a character.
In both Mitron and now Notebook, cities are important parts of the storytelling. Mitron was shot in Ahmedabad. The city was never a location for me; it was always a character in the film. As a filmmaker, I always believe that the city that we live in affects us in many ways and it constructs the way we are and the way we think.
We forget that the space we are in affects our being. If you go to Goa, you start feeling different. If you go to the mountains, you feel different. And suddenly if you are in Mumbai, there is a vibe here that makes you restless and you constantly feel the need to move.
In this film, the love affair stems from a notebook. The film is set in Kashmir, which is 30 years behind. Because of terrorism, Kashmir has been on the back foot. The Internet had not evolved as it did in other parts of India. The story called for a remote space. I think the film is very poetic and I wanted it to be visual poetry. I am glad people feel the same way. My vision as a filmmaker was that the film needs to look beautiful and poetic on screen, and Kashmir gave me that backdrop.
Was it difficult getting permissions?
No, not at all! I have shot films in different places. I have shot in Kolkata, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Kashmir. Kashmir is like any other place. You take permissions and choose the locations where you want to shoot. There are logistical issues which you sort out and then start to shoot. It is as simple as that (Smiles). There is a lot of hauwa about Kashmir, but aisa kuch hai nahi.
You had said that you were a little apprehensive about casting newcomers. What made you believe that Zaheer (Iqbal) and Pranutan (Bahl) fit the bill?
(Cuts in) I was not really apprehensive about it. Zaheer was already on board before I became part of the film as a director. I had spoken to Salman (Khan) sir. We had been in touch after Filmistaan. He told me that he might launch fresh faces and suggested that we look for a script. Of all the scripts that I read, I liked Notebook best. I told him that this is what I would like to make.
Then we were looking for a female lead. I saw Pranutan’s pictures on Instagram. We were casting, and at that time, I did not know she was Mohnishji’s (Bahl) daughter or Nutanji’s granddaughter. I saw her pictures and I thought there was something endearing about her face.
I told my team and we called her for an audition. They reached out to her and when she came to meet me, I realized that she was Mohnishji’s daughter. Then we auditioned her and I found my Firdaus. We thought, ‘Let’s break the news!’ Thereafter, we spoke to Salman sir and told him that we loved her. He gave me the freedom to cast whoever I liked.
Do you think that, sometimes, fresh faces help a narrative?
A known face definitely helps a film but it depends on who the face is. But there are some stories that demand a newcomer. It adds to the freshness. I believe that our industry needs a lot more actors considering the kind of films we are making.
For Notebook, I always felt there should be a new girl and a new boy. Not just Pranutan and Zaheer, there are six lovely kids who have worked in the film. It has been a lovely process. There is a certain kind of freshness that the visuals convey. It is a new world that we have created with Notebook; it is our own world and our own people. There are pros and cons to having both newcomers and established actors. There are images attached to established actors that affect the film, whether positively or negatively. Newcomers are like a clean slate. You can write whatever you want.
How hands-on was Salman Khan in the filmmaking process?
He never interfered in the process but enhanced it. He was involved creatively as the producer. He was a hands-on producer. At heart, he is a creative man; he is not a businessman. He is not a ‘studio’. He was personally involved in everything, which is very good for somebody like us because we get somebody with 30 years’ experience, someone who knows the pulse of the audience and who has been there and done that. It is very interesting to work with someone like that. If you are in two minds about something, you can talk to him and that helps.
After Filmistaan and Mitron, why direct an out-and-out love story?
Because I had never done that before! It is exciting to do new things. If I am going to do the same things over and over again, then I will not grow as a director. How do I grow then? Everytime I do an altogether new genre, I put myself in a situation where I ask myself if I can do it. And that is a great space to be in. I do not want to repeat a film on friend zoning; I do not want to repeat a Filmistaan or a Notebook. Maybe I will do a completely different film after this because it keeps me going. Telling the same stories over and over again becomes very monotonous.
We do not get the slightest clue about how the story unfolds through the trailer. Was it a strategic decision to cut the trailer that way?
That is how it should be. A trailer is supposed to create intrigue in the minds of the audience. You show them the world that the film is based in and touch upon the stories of the protagonists but not give out everything, else nothing will be left to catch in theatres.
You and Sharib Hashmi are a team. He had acted in Filmistaan. He wrote Mitron and now Notebook.
The dialogue of Notebook is by Sharib Hashmi and Payal Ashar. Sharib and I think alike. It is a great association. In this industry, you need to find your kind. He is my kind. Whenever I work on a film with him, it is never work; it is a lot of fun. We enjoy each other’s company. So when we are working together, it becomes very easy. We have no egos. We work together and try to bring out the best. That is why he has been a part of all the films which I have done.
You are working on Ramsingh Charlie and Jawani Janeman. What is the status?
Ramsingh Charlie was made in 2016. People think that after Filmistaan, my next film was Mitron, which is not true. I did Ramsingh Charlie in between. Unfortunately, it has not yet seen the light of day. I am hoping it releases soon.
Jawani Janeman is the next production I will be working on. Notebook releases on March 29. From April onwards, I will start working on Jawani Janeman. I have been working on it on and off, but the major work will begin in April.