Stanley Ka Dabba (Amole Gupte, 2011)
The tagline “A little story with a big heart” describes this film perfectly.
I don't even know what to say about Stanley Ka Dabba (Stanley's Lunchbox) except that you HAVE to see it. I don't know where to begin: it's utterly, gutwrenchingly heartbreaking, it will make you frustrated with the world, and probably angry and deeply sad; and in the same moments fill you with absolute gratitude and hope thanks to the small, ordinary, seemingly everyday acts of kindness and courage and friendship that are revealed in this extraordinarily lovely film.
The story revolves around Stanley – the one kid in his class who doesn't bring his lunch to school. There's obviously something going on with Stanley from the start – he arrives at school ridiculously early, sometimes with bruises he explains away with a clear gift for the gab, and he only eats when other students share their lunch with him. This is a problem for one of the teachers, a Mr Verma, though not in the way you'd expect.
Verma is the only teacher who never brings lunch to school, though it's obvious that his reasons and Stanley's reasons for lacking a dabba are quite different. Verma fills his own stomach by picking at staff and students' dabbas alike. Any morsel given to Stanley is a morsel Verma misses out on. So Mr Verma, a vile, greedy, grasping little man (played by the film's writer/director, Amole Gupte) embarks on a petty personal vendetta against Stanley (Partho, the most exquisite, adorable child actor I have ever seen), who employs all his creativity and charm in just trying to stay in school, resorting to drinking water to keep his hunger at bay.
There aren't enough films like this – combining an unvarnished, ordinary story with a backbone that isn't melodramatised or schmaltzed up. Stanley Ka Dabba has so much pure, genuine heart – in the celebration of Stanley's friends' guileless, supportive friendship; of the simple, right way of doing things triumphing over the selfish or lazy. I hate writing reviews of things I adore with every cell in my body because I don't know enough words for “outstanding”. Just do yourself a favour and watch it already.