Starring: Partho, Humaan, Abhishek, Monty, Leo, Tijo, Amole Gupte, Divya Jagdale, Divya Dutta
Directed by Amole Gupte
Stanley (Partho) is the first to arrive at school and sits alone in the classroom, waiting for his friends to troop in. He is also the only one who doesn’t get his own tiffin box. Not that it matters; his pals are around to share their food. The villain of the piece, if you can call him that, is the Hindi teacher (Amole Gupte) who is obsessed with food. The very smell of batata vada can send him drooling. And it’s this love for grub that drives a wedge between him and his students.
Amole Gupte builds a delightful, yet moving film on this trifle of an idea. In fact, things work wonderfully well as long as Amole doesn’t tell a story in the conventional sense of the term, but rather lets the warmth of his images do the talking. Like the lovely vignettes he shows us of school life—kids spying guilelessly on the much-loved young English teacher (Divya Dutta) and her boyfriend, the everyday chatter of the staffroom, Stanley’s never-ending, witty stories or the kids’ innocent stratagems to avoid sharing their tiffin with their gluttonous teacher. The camera lingers with a lot of love on food—from noodles to dal—and leaves you utterly ravenous. It also lingers on the innocent, unwary faces of the kids with a lot of affection and empathy, making you smile along with them.
Partho turns out one of the best performances seen so far this year in Hindi films—seemingly unrehearsed and effortless but very affecting. His group of friends and their camaraderie are just as involving. Divya Dutta, with her natural sweetness, fits the bill as the favourite teacher and Divya Jagdale is just as good as the tough, no-nonsense science teacher. Where Stanley falters is towards the end when things become preachy, predictable and tug at the heart-strings in an overly obvious way. In the truest sense, Stanley becomes more an adult’s look at the child’s world than a strictly “children’s film” and does leave you wondering why a film with children always comes with a message attached.