2009 saw a gem of a movie called Taare Zameen Par, a beautiful offering by Amole Gupte, and you knew then that Gupte had a way with kids; he could understand their psychology, their dreams, their ways perfectly well. Which is why it doesn’t surprise you when Stanley Ka Dabba (SKD) happens to touch the chords of your heart.
A very simplistic tale, SKD is about the very irresistible Stanley (Amole’s son, Partho) — untidy uniform, torn bag, bruised face but with enough zest, creativity and imagination to make him the darling of his classmates and well as the lovely English teacher, Miss Rosy (Divya Dutta). However, the Hindi teacher, Babubhai Verma (Gupte himself), doesn’t think twice before constantly berating him. The grudge? Stanley ka dabba. The very gluttonous Verma, who doesn’t bring a tiffin himself and takes to gorging on his students’, takes out his frustration on Stanley when he realizes that the kid gets to eat from his friends’ tiffins in spite of not getting a dabba, and Verma doesn’t.
The storyline is straightforward and very simple without any excessive drama, and relies heavily on the performances of the starcast. In that respect, you have absolutely no complaints. Stanley, the boy who covers up his bruises due to beatings with imaginative stories, the boy who thinks out of the box and writes his own poems for his favorite teacher’s birthday, the boy who says he is going to buy vada pav for recess and fills his stomach by drinking water, the boy who in spite of his hardships is always full of life; how is it not possible to fall in love with him? And it’s the super talented Partho who breathes life into this endearing character. Never over the top and with immense screen presence, this boy could give some of our stars a lesson in acting. He definitely has enough talent that directors could easily exploit.
Amole Gupte had already given us a taste of his acting through Kaminey and shines again as the pan-eating, greedy ‘khadus’ and it’s easy to guess where his son has got his acting genes from. You cannot but help yourself from hating him for troubling poor Stanley. Divya Jagdale as the science teacher is brilliant and will surely remind you of some teacher from your school days. With the ‘Sit straight with your spins erect’ to the ‘Open your textbooks, chapter 1, page 10’, you know that she represents those set of teachers who tend to suppress the innovations of students for the sake of ‘syllabus’. Divya Dutta as the caring English teacher is amazing as are the other professors. The kid cast is no less. Amole has introduced 170 new kids through this movie and must say that they are a truly natural lot. Numan Sheikh as Aman Verma with the most tasty homemade ‘dabba’ is sweet as is Abhishek Reddy, as the friend who goes out of his way to help Stanley. The other actors in the friend circle are good too. Amole has used Canon 7D and SLR to shoot the students to capture them in their natural best and though that compromises the cinematography quality a bit, the payoff is just fine. Music is endearing too but the best would definitely be Nikal Padi sung by Shankar Mahadevan. Having shown his comfort zone with kids earlier through Taare Zameen Par, Amole Gupte has selected a very apt topic for his directorial debut. And we must say that he has managed to do a commendable job with realistic depiction of Indian school atmosphere and student life. Never once do you see the movie falter as far as direction is concerned which proves the genuineness with which he has put in his heart and soul into this venture.
Very rarely can a film be without vices and SKD has a few too. The first half is a pretty slow and though the repetitions might work for kids, the adults will get bored. The second half manages to pipe up the interest with the basic question in everyone’s mind as to why Stanley doesn’t get a tiffin. Also, though the movie seems like one made for children, it in fact caters to adults dealing with pretty serious issues like child labor. Wasn’t entirely necessary to burden the kids with such issues since they might not understand them and even if they do, they aren’t capable of helping against it.
In spite of this, Stanley Ka Dabba is definitely worth a watch for the simple reason that it has a pure soul. No unnecessary frills added just to increase commercial value of the movie. From the moment you see the start credits in innovative cartoon form, you know this movie will be special. Amole Gupte manages to win our hearts and bring a lump in our throats again with this gem. For a nation starved of good children movies, this one is a definite milestone. Go watch it.