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Notebook Stars Zaheer & Pranutan Open-Up on Acting & Their Bollywood Debut

Notebook is produced by Salman Khan and sees the launch of two new budding actors: Pranutan Bahl and Zaheer Iqbal.

Pranutan is a qualified lawyer and the granddaughter of legendary Indian actress, Nutan. Bahl has always been passionate about pursuing a career in film.

Zaheer’s father is friends with Salman and since a young age, he’s had a filmy streak.

Perhaps it is this long-lasting passion has resulted in him getting a lead role in this Nitin Kakkar film.

An ex-army officer Kabir (Zaheer) coming back to Kashmir to be a schoolteacher.

The school is situated in the middle of the remote Wuller Lake, lacking basic amenities like running water and electricity, attended by just a handful of students.

This wasn’t quite what Kabir imagined when he signed up to teach.

At the school, one day, Kabir finds a notebook, left behind by the previous year’s teacher Firdaus (Pranutan) and that changes his entire life.

Happy, spirited and heart-warming, Notebook is about two people finding love in the most unexpected way.

In conversation with Filme Shilmy, both Pranutan and Zaheer reflect on their Bollywood debut. 

Pranutan Bahl     

Is Notebook the Bollywood debut you always wished for?

Oh yes, it’s everything that I wished for.

I couldn’t have asked for anything better than this.

Notebook is unconventional because it’s about two people who fall in love without meeting.

It’s very different.

Entering Bollywood through a Salman Khan production can be quite overwhelming. Has it added pressure on you as a debutant?

More than overwhelming I’d say it has been comforting to enter the movies with such a solid production house.

It was very comforting because of the fact that it was an SKF (Salman Khan Films) production, we didn’t have to worry about anything.

(With regards to growing up around Salman Khan), subconsciously, everything that you go through as a child influences you.

So definitely, yeah I did feel comfortable.

We’ve seen some amazing teacher characters in Bollywood. Who inspired you to play Firdaus?

Nitin Kakkar sir (the director), his vision is brilliant.

He inspires me every day.

Honestly, I didn’t really draw inspiration from anyone to play the character because you can’t replicate and shouldn’t ape anyone.

Everything should be a clean slate for you.

It was more about tapping on aspects of my personality to bring out Firdaus.

The maturity, calmness and goodness alongside other qualities I needed to bring out for the role.

How much of Firdaus is reflected in your actual current personality?

Initially, I was very different from the role except for the fact that I love kids.

With the help of Nitin sir and my acting coach Hemant Kher, with the preparations I underwent, I understood a lot about my character.

I had to write about Firdaus’ childhood, her favourite colour, favourite dish and her relationship with parents, etc.

The character had an emotionally affected life, so when you (as an actor) tap those areas it takes a little bit of time to break away from that.

It took a lot of time for me. I was at my emotional lowest in December when I came back from I felt baffled because all the characters weren’t around me.

When you know somebody so closely they do influence you in a huge way.

Firdaus and I are friends now. I’m very attached to her (laughs).

It must’ve been quite a moment for your father, Mohnish Bahl. What was his initial reaction like?

I was auditioning for 2.5/3 years so it wasn’t sudden, but he was very happy.

It is something that I wanted for a long time and when it happened, I think everyone was so happy, glad and relieved that it happened so beautifully.

What guidance or tips has dad given to you?

He just told me to be honest in whatever you do and be sincere in your interactions with people and in my craft.

Plus, he told me to never really take anything for granted and value the role I am given.

I have signed up for people to take a picture of you so don’t let anything deter you.

Honestly, I’m enjoying it.

(As for being in the limelight) so far, it’s been amazing.

Being a film kid, I kind of got used to it but when you become an actor yourself, you realise how different it is.

This is because you’re standing on your own, not being somebody’s daughter or son.

It’s not the fame that excites me, it’s the fact that I get to do something that I love.

Finally, what are your future plans post Notebook?

I don’t really have any plans, nor do I believe in them.

I feel that everything happens according to destiny and allowing the universe to let it happen.

It’s important to focus on honesty and hard work… The rest will be taken care of.

Zaheer Iqbal

Is Notebook the Bollywood debut you always wished or hoped for?

Yes, it is. I always wanted a film that is totally content-based rather than a film which is like a show-reel for an actor.

This film, hopefully, is me portraying my acting skills.

How was it shooting in Kashmir? Was there a particular moment that stood out to you?

Shooting in Kashmir was one of the best experiences in my life because of the people there made me feel so warm and welcome there.

Constantly, I was learning about films and filmmaking on-set.

It’s always so wonderful to be surrounded by so much beauty.

You can’t look at any direction and not find beauty in Kashmir.

From the trailer, you seem to have had a fun time shooting with the children. What was this experience like for you?

It was a great time shooting with the kids and they’ve inspired me.

Every morning waking up and seeing their enthusiasm, they work so hard during the shoot.

I remember there was one kid (whose character name is Shyama), there was this song sequence where we had to be drenched all day.

It was freezing cold water and after every take, we had to go and change – put on the dry costume, do the hair and makeup, then come back and do the same thing again.

This process went on for the whole day because we had multiple shots.

That girl did not once complain about the 12-hour duration of the sequence.

Seeing the kids maintaining that professionalism is inspiring and makes me want to work harder.

Their energy is infectious.

Did you use your childhood experiences help you to portray the role of Kabir – as a teacher?

Not really. Actually, it was easy for me to play a teacher because I’m a horrible one in the film (laughs).

I’m playing a teacher who doesn’t really teach so it was quite easy for me to go out there and pretend not to know how to teach these kids.

I was supposed to not know how to teach.

It was really hard shouting at these children because they are very ‘Mastikhor’ (jovial) but didn’t do anything that one could shout at them for.

Kabir is completely different from how I am in real life in every possible way.

But we were lucky to have people like Nitin and Hemant sir train us for four months.

Nitin sir didn’t believe I was playing a 25-year-old who was sad, but a guy who has gone through things and would show/focus on that.

It can be quite nerve-wracking to go in front of the camera but Pranutan and I were quite well-prepared.

Do you feel a film like Notebook will shatter stereotypes regarding traditional Bollywood love stories?

Notebook is a very unconventional love story where a guy does not meet a girl and fall in love with her.

This is not a far-fetched thought but is something that happens way lesser in today’s day and age.

We knew of stories before where people have fallen in love without meeting each other.

After promoting the film, we’ve found out more such stories.

It’s not really fiction because people have fallen in love with each other, maybe not through a notebook, but definitely without hearing or seeing each other.

In addition to being a love story, there is also a wonderful message which is conveyed without it being preachy.

Directed by Nitin Kakkar, Notebook is set to release in cinemas on 29th March 2019.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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