‘Stanley ka Dabba’ movie entices you the moment it heralds with an animated duo of a monstrous wretched man and his tussle with a kido, all for a dabba (Tiffin box) with the poor lad looking forth an escapade by drawing caricature of sorts and thus devising a nouveau way every time to fool the man with long hair, hinting subtly to what we can expect in the plot about to unfold.
From the very moment our gaze befalls on the protagonist Stanley Fernandez (Partho Gupte and director-cum-producer Amol Gupte’s son) who starts his day with a prayer to Mother Mary, those streaks of sun rays beaming from behind her halo shining brightly as if true blessings are being showered in the form of a cascade with a gushing flow. There are moments in the entire film that reminded me of my good ole’ school days, those mornings replete with an anxiety mulling over the proceedings of the entire day, mommas instructing their sweet hearts right up to the gates of the school, teachers making a foray into the precincts of the school those idiosyncrasies marking the very hue of the ambience be it the affable exchange of glances between a Ms. Rosie (English Teacher played by Divya Dutta) and her beau or Mrs. Iyer (Science Teacher portrayed by Divya Jagdale) and that cockish attitude of hers not to forget that ‘gajra’ being quintessential of her very mien. Amidst these oddities thrives our supposed villain Babubhai Verma (Hindi Teacher played by Amol Gupte) who suffers from kleptomania and one or two more of such psychosomatic disorders, a rather beguiling man who seems to draw some sort of sadistic pleasure by eating out of others’ Tiffin boxes be it his colleagues or even his own pupils for that matter, poor Aman Mehra being one of the many naïve subjects of his utter tormenting test of one’s patience and in this case the helpless child’s noblesse oblige as well, ah that ‘teen compartment wala dabba’ could bring water to anyone’s mouth, you see!!!
Well, this always happens my sense of premonition deserting me when I need it rather badly (guess would have to brush it more) and after a period has passed, this thought came like a swish that ‘Stanley Ka Dabba’ had in fact some ‘moments’ (moments referring to the time that elapsed in the seemingly brooding couch for twelve tiring long years of my life) I could relate to easily:
1) First and foremost that tendency to get lost in the crowd especially if you are not among those flamboyant ones who have been very successful in gelling well with the respective teacher (technical word for it is ‘impression’). In this case Ms. Rosie was the only one who adored Stanley not as a student but as an individual who brought value to class through his overtures and thoughts being given vent to in his essays that made him stand out among his peers.
2) Rote knowledge being imparted in the form of formal education, the mentors (read teachers) making every possible attempt to sabotage and crush any bud of creativity that might have survived the whirlwinds of time. So for the Science Teacher those slushy piles of science projects were more substantial than the ‘Tower House’ made by Stanley the boy preferring to make a Live Model rather than scribbling on pages for that is what he could make out of green house gases, global warming and other such mind-boggling concepts taking the fact into consideration that the spotlight is on class four kids.!
3) An inexplicable jinx is palpable, sucking the very sheen of those corridors that should be bubbling with vivacity and an aura that not only propels students from one term to another rather than transform them into ‘enablers’, those that are capable of sending ripples across. Stanley who is the butt of stern action at the hands of a science teacher, is recommended by Hindi teacher to write with right hand despite being left-hander, yet receives a smiley from Ms. Rosie in his essay, for he could describe events vividly sprinkled with jocundity, those that had never occurred.
4) Distribution of assignment copies, I guess I really relished this particular scene when fingers were crossed as we didn’t want any public lashing either for essay or for writing or ‘why your copy is not covered’, ‘whose copy is without a name slip’ trivial but very crucial source of embarrassment for the toddlers! That swarming and pandemonium that creeps in the wake of an inter-school competition and that jostle to choose the school’s best(est) representative, Stanley being victimized due to the fray but makes up for it owing to his instinctive ability to absorb things with a lightning speed
5) Not to forget the most prized possession, that of having a ‘dabba’ for it is not just food, rather those contents being emblematic of affection and care of mum poured into it who can’t accompany you inside those precincts and the 'compartmentalized object' emerging in the film as the basis to debar Stanley from attending the school.
It isn’t a smooth sail as it appears and one soon realizes that it is a bumpy ride with a few potholes marring the nostalgic journey in ways more than one, yet the essence is well-illustrated as the culmination arrives. While the school bids farewell to the man who always eyed other person’s dabba, Babubhai represents those belonging to the category of pusillanimous that under the garb of teachers leave bruises on fragile minds leaving them more than often in a state of delirium. Good riddance of the fiend, I must say!!
It is not a master-piece or an avant-garde in the genre of drama for it fails to tread on the path of ‘Taare Zamin Par’ yet it strikes the right chord as it unravels the travails of those who might not be as fortunate, those who labor in the wee hours only to make it to a school where carrying a dabba is a must.