Film-maker Amole Gupte is passionate about cinema with kids as the central characters, which is very evident from the stories he wants us to hear. He chooses to get into their little world, depict their joys, sorrows, concerns... It was evident in TAARE ZAMEEN PAR [written by Gupte, besides being the creative director] and now in STANLEY KA DABBA [written and directed by Gupte]. Like TAARE ZAMEEN PAR, STANLEY KA DABBA is a slice-of-life film about school kids, it makes you appreciate friendship, besides exploring the relationship that kids share with their teachers. Yet, STANLEY KA DABBA delves deeper. It talks of tiffins and recess breaks and how an orphan's life undergoes a sea-change when confronted by a selfish, cold-blooded teacher, only because the orphan can't afford a lunch box to school.
If you think STANLEY KA DABBA bears any resemblance to TAARE ZAMEEN PAR, you are mistaken. The film goes into a zone that no Hindi film has ever explored earlier. The two films are as diverse as oranges and peaches in terms of content. But like TAARE ZAMEEN PAR, STANLEY KA DABBA also makes a stunning impact on the viewer.
Simplistic, honest and sensitively told, STANLEY KA DABBA takes you back to your school days. It's unlike any other film you may've watched in the past. It's an uncomplicated film that moves you with its sheer simplicity and unfussiness. Told through the eyes of a 9-year-old kid and filmed extensively inside a classroom, STANLEY KA DABBA moves you on several occasions, especially towards its thought-provoking finale.
Here's a small film with a big heart. A remarkable film with a rock-solid script, this heart-warming experience should not be missed at any cost. A cinematic gem!
He arrives in school much before any of his classmates to drum away his blues on empty benches. He stuffs himself with water instead of the nutritious food that his schoolmates relish during the lunch break. He covers up for his lack of social rank with the finesse of the most seasoned diplomat. He's Stanley [Partho].
Stanley loves to be amongst friends and win the appreciation of his peers and colleagues. He uses his sparkling wit and innocent wisdom to astound everyone around him. At times spinning a yarn amongst friends about his mother's flight, while on occasion conjuring some heartfelt poetry to impress the lovely English teacher, Rosy Miss [Divya Dutta].
There are teachers like the pungent Science Madam, Ms Iyer [Divya Jagdale], whose rigid beliefs smother Stanley's innovative science experiment with all the contempt at her disposal. Then there is the gluttonous Hindi master, Verma Sir [Amole Gupte], who emerges as the catalyst in helping the boys bond for Stanley's dignity and rightful place in the school.
The camaraderie between the boys comes to the fore when they thwart Verma Sir's desperate attempts to polish off their dabbas with all the guile at their disposal. The gang makes the 'invincible' Verma show his true vulnerable self for once as he marches from one possible hideout to another in the school premises, trying to binge upon their home-made food. Feeling humiliated by his students, Verma Sir vents his anger on Stanley...
The general misconception in India is, children's films are not meant for adults. But I don't subscribe to this viewpoint. I strongly feel that films depicting a child as a protagonist appeals as much to the universal spectators. In fact, it's high time we stop calling them 'children's films'. I could cite a number of films, starring kids in principal roles, which have worked with moviegoers from all age groups. STANLEY KA DABBA works big time as well, not just with kids, but also grownups.
With STANLEY KA DABBA, Gupte peeps into the psyche of a school kid. His Stanley tugs at your heartstrings while facing this heartless world. At home, at school, in fact life is a challenge for this kid every single day. While the story doesn't move much initially, it takes a [humorous] turn when the kids start hiding themselves and their dabbas from the insatiable Hindi master. But the events thereafter - right from Stanley bearing the brunt of Verma's ire to the subsequent redemption - strike like lightening. Especially the conclusion to the film, which leaves an indelible impression.
There aren't any visible flaws in STANLEY KA DABBA, but the entire track of Stanley performing at an inter-school contest could've been sharper. Also, it's snail-paced at times, taking its own sweet time to unfold. But keeping the fault-finding aside, I'd say that STANLEY KA DABBA is a rare film that tells an interesting story and carries an important message as well. It moves you on several occasions, it pushes you to reflect and introspect and it makes you look at kids differently. Simple in the truest sense of the word, Stanley could be an acquaintance, perhaps your child or even a friend... who knows Stanley could be you.
As a storyteller, Gupte deserves distinction marks for turning a superb script into a superb film. Besides, his ability to draw natural, sparkling and wonderful performances from the kids warrants ovation. Partho is a wonder kid. Uninhibited, spontaneous and lovable, this child actor is the star of the show, the soul of the enterprise. The remaining kids pitch in amazing performances as well, especially the kid who gets the most delicious meals in his dabba.
The supporting cast delivers remarkable performances as well. Divya Dutta is top notch. Note the sequence when she confronts Gupte. Divya Jagdale, Aditya Lakhia and Raj Zutshi enrich the film with relatable performances. Rahul Singh makes his presence felt. Last but not the least, Amole Gupte. I haven't loathed anyone as much as I detested him in the film. That only goes to prove what a fantastic performance he has delivered.
I've been told that Gupte shot the entire film with a skeletal crew. He also avoided the usage of lights [only natural light was used], except for a scene in the climax where a bulb was used. If at all that's true, I'd like to applaud the efforts of the DoP [Amol Gole] for the wonderful frames. The songs fit in beautifully in the narrative and most importantly, stay true to the film's spirit.
On the whole, STANLEY KA DABBA is a sincere, noble, well-intentioned film that tells a moving story with earnestness. One of the finest films of our times, this emotional journey is a must watch. Thumbs Up!