There are two montages in this little film with a big heart which evoke unique sensory emotions for anyone who has had a regular schooling: 1) school kids opening their lunch boxes and 2) their mothers preparing the food and packing the said lunch boxes. The camera captures these two events quite intimately. As an adult, who opened his last dabba in a school recess more than 20 years ago, I was transported to a world which I had long forgotten. I was observing it all from the outside and the primary reason I think these montages worked for me is not so much because I wanted to revisit and relive in that world, but how it made me feel content for having had a fortunate childhood to have experienced them.
This Amole Gupte film is primarily a “message” film but unlike the other “message” film directed by Mr Aamir Khan, stays away from bolding, CAPITALizing and underlining it. When the reason behind Stanley’s predicament is disclosed and the background score tugs at your heart-strings, the screenplay does not resolve Stanley’s problems with a simple and convenient cinematic ending, but instead flows right into Stanley’s way of dealing with it (which is not a new revelation since he has been shown dealing with it a number of times before the end). That said, right from the outset the movie makes it clear that it wants to stay simple and not belabor, glorify or shock you in any which way: the animation sequence in the opening credits while incredibly powerful, is as simple as the writing with a chalk on a blackboard (no colorful dry erase markers on shiny whiteboards here). The movie sticks to this simplicity and while the central theme of Stanley’s mysteriously non-existent Dabba lingers, the script flows effortlessly between random incidents: from after-school football games, to school home work, to lunch recess or to the problem of a right handed and a left handed kid sharing desk-space.
All the children in the movie not so much as perform but seem to just be children in front of the camera. The movie is full of faces and expressions, expressions so genuine, they have to have made it to the right places on the editor’s table. The adults in the movie who are mostly teachers do display some stereotypical traits, which is surprising considering how the rest of the movie avoids them. (Example: the Christian teacher is free-spirited while the South Indian teacher stays within the margins) Stanley’s nemesis is the Hindi Teacher Mr. Verma (aka Khadoos) played by Gupte himself. He manages to portray Khadoos like a monstrous, misunderstood and unloved dog. His character to me seemed like a yesteryear Stanley who probably did not ever get a Rosie or an Akram to pull him through whatever awful things happened to him in his childhood. We never find out his back story which is completely OK since this is Stanley’s story. In fact the script does itself mighty good by not focusing on Khadoos’ back story and just lets him disappear. Comparisons are inevitable, the Aamir character takes over the second half of Taare Zameen Par and goes so far as to provide an explanation of how his character also suffered from the same condition as the protagonist (and hence somehow wants us to believe that, he is qualified to be the cynosure of the proceedings in the second half). Oh well, I digress.
While not a perfect movie (is there such a thing?), Stanley ka Dabba does manage to transport you to a world which was simple and if it wasn’t, whatever was complicated could be resolved by simply switching seats.