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Stanley Ka Dabba  : Stanley passes honourably
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Friday, May 13, 2011
Social / Children
Amole Gupte
Amole Gupte, Divya Dutta, Divya Jagdale
Writer-director-actor Amol Gupte who escorted Aamir Khan into the heart-tugging land of the dyslexic with Taare Zameen Par, goes into a classroom again to tell a simple, sweet linear story.

The plot: Class 1V F is where Stanley (Partho) regales his classmates with stories that come straight out of his imagination and tucks into all their dabbas which they happily share with him. Children keep it simple and don’t probe why Stanley doesn’t get a dabba of his own. It’s the grown-ups, in this case Verma Sir (Amole Gupta) with an obsession for helping himself to everybody else’s dabba, who makes Stanley feel like a worm for merrily eating what the hers offer. It’s only after Verma Sir’s eating disorder moves into disgusting realm (he orders Stanley to bring his own tiffin box or not enter school again) that the truth must be confronted about the yarn-spinning young schoolboy.

The good: There’s plenty of overt goodness here right from the children’s simplicity and sharing to Miss Rosie (Divya Dutta), a ray of sunshine in the classroom, the kind Principal (Rahul Singh) and the restaurant cook who finally rigs up a dabba for Stanley. The goodness is also there in all the performances including that of Amol Gupte who casts himself as the horrid Verma Sir. And Amole does get all the kids to be believably carefree even as Stanley (splendidly charming) carries his own personal emotional baggage lightly without shouldering it as a huge burden. There’s also goodness in Amole Gupte’s intentions. He tells the story of child labour without labouring over it like a documentary. His heart is definitely in the right place both in the film and out of it. Out of it because ‘The End’ gives a half-minute look at the alarming stats of child labour in India. Also the fact that Amole shot this film only on Saturdays, never once allowing any of the child actors to skip school. Wouldn’t that be a first anywhere in the world?  The extra half-star in the rating is for what happened outside the film.
The bad: Stanley could have passed with flying colours if only Amole had got his screenplay right. You can’t help feeling that the thought was more noble than the narrative. Keep it simple, no issues with that. But you mean none of the teachers even had a whiff of where Stanley came from? What about Parents’ Day or Open Day when teachers meet with parents? Wouldn’t any of them or the Principal have known that Stan was an orphan, a child labourer at his chacha’s restaurant? And if the chacha was a monster (as established quickly in one shot where he slaps the boy for not being on the job), how come he sent Stanley to such a good, normal school? Somewhere post-interval, the film also begins to be more Verma Ka Adda than Stanley Ka Dabba. Perhaps because the actor took over from the story-teller? Somehow, you begin to understand why Aamir Khan had to step in and take over the direction of   Taare Zameen Par because in Amole’s hands it might have remained a great intention but not exemplary execution. Even the poignant music of TZP (the ‘Maa’ number by Shanker-Ehsaan-Loy) is not really evident here.

Overall: Stanley Ka Dabba is so heartwarming that it makes up for the drawbacks in the screenplay. It’s recommended for the soul-cleansing freshness of schoolkids and for making a sugar-coated point about child labour.

– Bharathi S Pradhan

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