Stanley Ka Dabba (2011)

Yesterday I went to watch Stanley Ka Dabba.Very few films have the heartwarming impact of Stanley Ka Dabba, which is right about the wonder years that one spends in the school. The hushed whispers from the back benches,  mostly criticizing the teachers. Sharing sandwiches out of tiffin boxes, playing pranks on cruel teachers… it all comes back to you in a flash, as you sit there watching this film unfold on screen.

Director Amole Gupte (writer of Taare Zameen Par) leads you once again into the classroom. But while you knew from the outset exactly what point Taare Zameen Par was making, the lesson in Stanley Ka Dabba is woven in seamlessly. So engrossed are you in the story of how Stanley must tackle his dabba problem that the climax creeps upon you and catches you unaware.

Stanley (played by Partho) is the most famous boy of Class 4. His friends want him around all the time. We see early on that Stanley does not bring his own tiffin lunch. The director doesn’t clearly tell us the reason, only giving us a shadow of pathos in the scene where we see the boy secretly quenching hunger pangs by drinking straight out of a tap in the school toilet.

Amole Gupte himself steps in as Stanley’s bête noir, playing the character of Hindi teacher ‘Verma Sir’, who picks on Stanley for sharing his friends’ dabbas at lunchtime everyday. There’s a touching message in Stanley Ka Dabba, but Gupte tells it with the love of a true storyteller, never bludgeoning the audience on the head with it.

Stanley ka Dabba is shot on a Canon 7D, a still camera now increasingly used to shoot feature films in HD. And while the image quality still has some way to go in matching 35mm film, the advantages of maneuverability, low set up time, and no raw stock cost, outweighs look and feel in such a project. Filmed in a manner intrinsic to the material, even the pace is unhurried and the stylistic choices, basic. Nominal background score and good songs conform uniformly to the mood.

But one of the most vivid characters in Stanley Ka Dabba is the food itself. I was reminded of Ang Lee’s early Taiwanese film Eat Drink Man Woman, where food forges relationships. Here too, we see it in the love with which each mother prepares her child’s lunchbox, or how it binds together Stanley and his friends.

I’m going with four out of five for director Amole Gupte’s Stanley Ka Dabba. This is a film with the perfect ingredients; made with honesty and a touch of innocence. No wonder it leaves you feeling very rewarded.