Director: Amole Gupte
Cast: Partho, Numaan Sheikh, Abhishek Reddy, Divya Dutta, Amole Gupte, Raj Zutshi
Storyline: A boy who never brings his lunch box to school needs to figure out a way to cope with the increasing pressure of academics and a teacher who wants his lunch.
Bottomline: A heartwarming take on the pangs of childhood that chokes you in small doses all through.
The Dabba is a metaphor really. And food is what makes their world goes round. Every day, during lunch hour, children open up their dabbas to each other and share a bit of that homemade love. Lunch hour at school could be a defining social leveller, a melting pot in a country of different tastes, cultures and social backgrounds.
Stanley, the spirited protagonist, has a bunch of great buddies as his support system, a caring English teacher who he has a crush on, a never-say-die drive to learn and oodles of talent. When it comes to intelligence, he’s the anti-thesis to the dyslexic Ishaan (Darsheel Safari) in Amole Gupte’s first script, ‘Taare Zameen Par’ (He was also the director of that film before Aamir Khan took over the project and Gupte was credited as Creative Director). Stanley is tougher than Ishaan. And smarter. In his own way though, not always conforming to the system.
The film is our window to his world and to many like him. And we watch him closely from a distance as the camera lingers on the children at their most candid behaviour. Never has innocence between captured like this before and Amole Gupte hits the bull’s eye in getting a pitch-perfect natural and realistic performance from his entire ensemble cast that is filled with fresh young faces, led by Partho (Gupte’s son who plays the titular Stanley).
It’s refreshing to see a film that employs love or food as the currency for every day life. Kids are sent to school with food, rewarded with chocolates and even taxed by a teacher in denominations of food. Because, that’s how it used to be. No money? No problem. Your friend would have it. No lunch? No problem. Eat from your friend’s dabba. But guess who wants a share of that love? The Despicable Me-Hindi teacher, nicknamed Khadoos by the kids, wants to eat their lunch. Devoid of love in his life, hated by all, the miserly and greedy teacher (played by Gupte himself) makes life difficult for Stanley because the boy does not bring his own lunch. His parents are away.
The English teacher, Rosy Miss, on the other hand, rewards the kids with chocolates every time she’s impressed with their home-work. Stanley always manages to impress her. The Science teacher, Ms. Iyer, likes her students to conform to the syllabus while the Math teacher approaches arithmetic with anecdotes to make the learning more fun for children.
The school is the world the film inhabits, so we don’t get a glimpse of their homes. A clever conceit. And Gupte captures the routine of school without ever letting the monotony get repetitive for the audience.
Stanley Ka Dabba is about the role of the teacher-as-parent. It’s about how every action of theirs shapes young minds. It could encourage them or make them withdraw into a shell. It chokes you in small doses all through (easily moved Mommies will shed buckets of tears), and the drama is done so subtly and elegantly and never for manipulation… until the very end when a slap jolts you out of the rhythm of understatement.
While the dramatic revelation is crucial to the film and makes us revisit everything we’ve seen in fresh light, it seems slapped on us as afterthought.
Yet, this is a great companion piece to Taare Zameen Par, even outdoing the former in sensitivity and freshness. If you are not put off by message movies (I am), you would, like Rosy Miss, give the director a pat on the back and a Five Star chocolate.