******************* Spoiler Alert ********************
Got a chance to watch Amol Gupte's 'Stanley ka Dabba' last Sunday. If you recall, Amol Gupte was the scriptwriter for Aamir Khan's 'Taare Zameen Pe'. There were some ugly rows between the two, with Amol accusing Aamir of hijacking the script and direction, which ensured ample coverage on Page 3. This time however, Gupte ensures that he delivers the movie on his own and boy does he deliver or what! 'Stanley ka Dabba' comes out as a sweet, real and nostalgic movie which will take you down the memory corridors of your school life.
Stanley Fenandez is the most popular student of Class 4F at Holy Family School. He breaks into impromptu karaokes, stitches the most incredulous stories on the fly to his classmates delight, joins the group for a game of after school football. He is the favorite student of the sweet and encouraging 'Rosie Miss' who is spellbound by the your boy's ability, be it writing a funny essay, breaking into a poem for her birthday or building a Light House with junk. He is exactly what Ishaan Awasti was not in TZP. He's funny, he's popular, he's smart and he's without a tiffin box.
This is where the story begins to unfold. Stanley never gets dabba from home. Unkempt, torn uniform, blackened eyes all point to some basic brickwork missing from the boys' life. Your heart tears to see him drink water from the school tap to fight his hunger. But for every dark cloud, isnt there a silver lining! His classmates are forever welcoming him to trade their food for his stories. It reminds you of your own days in school, when all the kids used to flock around the table to hog on yummy food tucked in by over zealous moms. Enter Aman Verma into the picture. He is there in every class I am sure. The guy who has the biggest and yummiest food packed into a carrier that would put the Qutub Minar to shame. And the kids dig in with gusto.
What the kids are not prepared is for Hindi teacher 'Babubhai Verma' a.k.a Khadoos. The sweaty glutton never lets go of an opportunity to dig into the dabbas of students and even teachers. He shamelessly asks for a helping from his colleagues and worse still takes a liking to Aman Verma's tower of indulgence. And yes, he never gets his own food. The kids spite him for his bullying and especially take offense to Khadoos picking on Stanley for not getting his own food. And that's when the most fun part of the movie comes in: a set of kids outwitting the greedy hog by changing the khane ka adda every day. It doesn't take long for Khadoos to realize that he's being played with and lashes out at poor Stanley for his 'beizatti'. The 'No dabba to no school' diktat pushes the proud boy to a corner and he stops coming to school.
This is where the movie takes the tested and familiar route of David vs Goliath, innocence vs oppression to reach a very expected ending. The boy is an orphan, living with his hotel owner chacha who constantly abuses and exploits him. The only solace there for Stanley is Akram, the hotel cook who doubles up as his Big Brother. Akram helps Stanley finally get his own dabba to school, which acts as his license to get back to school and the ultimate expulsion of Khadoos.
It might not be a script that sets the screen on fire, but there are a couple of things which make the movie so endearing. Firstly its the school life itself. Its sure to transport you back to the days of your own challenging days with pampering mothers, boring lessons, great friendships and times of pure innocence. The teachers' casting is superb with Divya Dutta as the glowing Miss Rosie that every student looks up to, Divya Jagdale as the archetypal Mrs. Iyer, the flower adorned cold as stone Science teacher, the classy and elegant Father and finally Amol Gupte, as the Hindi teacher who shares no love or cares two hoots for his students. I am sure every one amongst us has vivid memories of the teachers who taught, loved, punished and molded us. Secondly, it touches upon the friendships that we build over the years. The real pillars who understood everything that was going on in our lives and shared every moment of the highs and lows to build everlasting memories of bonding and camaraderie. We are after all, defined by the friendships that we make. Finally, the real star of the movie if your really ask me is the food itself. There are hundreds of superbly shot scenes of spluttering tadka, frying samosas, chopping colorful vegetables, fresh paneer...the list is endless. I really loved the character of Raj, the new history teacher who brings in a new dish every day and has such a lovely story and explanation to every preparation: the style of cooking, the contents of the dish, the variety in the spices. Every time the food comes on screen, you will feel like digging into the dabbas and feel its really not such a sin if Khadoos wanted a bite of this heavenly bliss.
The acting is superb. The young actor Partho, who is actually Amol Gupte's son effortlessly manages to paint the tale of Stanley with total sincerity and enthusiasm. You cant help but fall in love the with boy who inspite of the cruel world around him, comes up trumps with his personality and simplicity. The script is a little slow and predictable at the end, but never leaves you uninterested. The direction is quite good and Amol Gupte doesn't try to over do any emotional scenes. Its a simple story, told with a lot of innocence and a large heart. Go watch it and enjoy yourself, its worth its salt.