Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Stanley ka dabba - Fantastic stuff

I watched Amol Gupte's 'Stanley ka dabba' this afternoon at Inox. As with any good movie of its type, there was the danger of theatres not being available for it after the second week, so I rushed to Inox, which was one of the two theatres playing it. The other is Prasad's, another multiplex, so you can have all the trade experts (who can predict nothing), categorize it under a multiplex-movie - whatever that is. It is not - it is good for every one who can watch good cinema.

I liked it better than 'Taare Zameen Par' because it stays true to its story and tells it simply. From the first shot the camera enters directly into the centre of world of the school children of Holy Family High School, somewhere in Andheri, Mumbai. It sneaks into the world of Stanley a gifted, loveable, unconventional boy of the 4th standard - 4thF. Now Stanley's life is not normal as you can make out from the bruises on his face, his torn and slightly soiled clothes, his penchant to tell stories and his heightened sensitiveness. Stanley is also the only boy in the class, consisting of a motley group of kids from different backgrounds, who does not get a dabba for lunch, making do with drinking water to fill his stomach. But his friends are more than willing to share their lunch with him and he promises them that the moment his mother returns from Delhi, he will get his dabba as well. But these dabba problems do not stop him from reciting wonderful poetry, singing songs, writing excellent essays, playing good soccer, making creative science projects - and being the darling of some teachers and being hated by some - like Varma sir, the Hindi teacher (Amole Gupte).

Now Varma sir does not get his dabba and loves eating off others dabbas. And when the school decides to add extra periods during Christmas to cover up some lost time, all children are told to bring a bigger dabba for the bigger recess. Stanley does not get his dabba as usual, a fact that irks Varma, but his friend Aman Mehra brings a dabba big enough for everyone. Aman has a heart as big as his carriage and he asks everyone to share, mostly Stanley. With his friends Aman, Abhishek and company, Stanley eats his lunches happily until Varma sir eyes Aman's delicious smelling dabba. He shares it with them one day and wants to eat it everyday - leaving them all little to eat. The boys hide from him and eat their dabbas and he chases them until a day when he finds them - he shouts at them and seeing Stanley, the one without a dabba, who he suspects is eating up his share, tells Stanley not to come to school if he does not get a dabba. Stanley starts missing school much to the consternation of Rosy teacher who is his English teacher and his friends. He even misses out a concert in which all schools participate. Now Stanley is a natural for that concert with his singing and dancing skills and his friends finally locate him and send him to the concert. Stanley is a big success at the concert. But before that he brings a huge dabba to school and takes it to Varma sir to seek his reentry into class. Varma sir realises his mistake.

I will not reveal why Stanley cannot get his dabba because I have given away too much of the story already. But it is worth finding out. Stanley ka dabba is brilliantly made and extracts wonderful performances from young children - Partho, Abhishek, Aman Mehra (I forget his name but he is wonderful as a big hearted friend). Great show boys - all of you! The teachers are cast well and turn in solid performances - Mrs. Iyer is superb, Shyam Zutshi is good to watch, the English teacher, the lady teacher who brings bread and butter, the Principal. Even Akram. Its fascinating to see everyone through their dabbas which are as intimate a peek into someone as it can get.

After watching 'Stanley ka dabba' I wonder what Amole Gupte would have made out of 'Taare Zameen Par' if left to himself. He would have certainly taken it to another level because of his amazing connect to children and his ability to get right into their midst without seeming obtrusive. Despite all its success, TZP got a bit plasticky for me, a bit too preachy as some element of dishonesty crept in - something that does not work with children's movies. 'Stanley ka dabba' goes straight to the issue, puts its arms around the children's as one of their own, shares their dabbas and draws us wonderfully into their little world without excessive sentimentalism. The only hint of a tear on screen is seen once in Divya Dutta's eyes when she comes to know why Stanley has been missing. Don't miss this out because this will leave a huge impact on you and the way you see children, the way you see yourself. And those who want to watch it, do it in the theatre - it is wonderful to see it on the big screen.

The movie was apparently made over weekends, during workshops, without auditions, in four hour schedule with two recesses, loads of fun and in the true spirit of cinema as Amole Gupte says on his website. Fantastic stuff. Amole Gupte, don't grow up! Stay there at the children's height because we need some adults who can listen to them. And make movies on your own. You are doing wonderful work.

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