The cynic in me often wonders, “why do we need cinema with social message?” Don’t we have enough of Moral Education in the schools? Why can’t I just See The Devil? Or as a friend says, “why this NGO film-making?” I guess the scenario is not the same always. Not with Amole Gupte at least. As far as I know, cinema is by-product for him. In his office room, where they have their editing machine, the most visible picture hanging on the wall is of Nikumbh Sir, his art teacher who inspired the character played by Aamir Khan in Taare Zameen Par. I don’t know many people who have portraits of their favourite teachers hanging on their walls. Do you? The “by-product” must really be the key factor. Nikumbh Sir, kids and then the film.
And it’s something similar with Amole’s directorial debut too. Well, you may argue that why should you bother about the filmmaker’s story and not just see the film. You surely can but then it will only be half the story. The other half is always with the filmmaker/writer if it’s something sincere and honest. For every film that I love, I make sure to figure out why a filmmaker/writer could manage to tell that specific story so well, and trust me, there’s always an interesting story there. Watch Stanley Ka Dabba and if you are willing to scratch the surface, read on…
With a little help from my friends
After ‘Taare Zameen Par’, what? Many ideas cooked into scripts, many producer meetings and budgets discussions. Many encounters with stars, trying to convince them of scripts I felt certain would work. I guess fate’s way of saying don’t follow the rulebook! Somehow, everything that goes in making a film, actually takes you further away from making the film.
So ‘Stanley Ka Dabba’. I had a story but I wanted to explore the journey more spontaneously, with a mind open to inputs and ideas of children. I approached Mrs. Asha Kapoor, Ex-Principal of Holy Family High School (where I studied) The idea was to conduct an open door, 4 hour theatre and cinema study sessions, and extract something out of that process. But the boundary was defined. NOT MORE THAN 4 HOURS, NO MUGGING DIALOGUES, NO LIGHTS, NO HEAVY DUTY EQUIPMENT. And most important, children would be the centre of the filming process. Whatever, I do, my film, my crew and me will be second to their needs and their comforts.
The plan felt far-fetched to Deepa. To add to her stress, I wanted the option of leaving it as a workshop in the event it didn’t work! I couldn’t very well tell a producer, give me money but I don’t promise you a film. That would be mighty cheeky. So we decided not to approach a studio, or a financier. Borrowed money from a generous friend, acted in a few films and ‘Stanley Ka Dabba’ got on the road.
The family (I don’t dare call them Unit) was great. Faraz Ansari, dedicated, never-say-die executive producer, Archana Phadke, a bundle of creative energy, Nyla Masood, on costume, Sheetal Bapardekar on production design, Dwarak Warrier and Madhu Apsara on sound, Nilufer Qureshi, our media consultant, my actors and my genius cameraman, Amol Gole, as instinctive as my children! All of them were generous and giving with their time, energy and most importantly their faith. This film was not possible without the faith and I am indebted to them for helping me create an atmosphere conducive for children to do their best.
Saturday to Saturday, at 4 hours pace, we built on the story. Children grew into their parts, and teachers too. Six months into this process, Deepa started putting the material together. And slowly the film emerged. How delicately my children had performed, how carefree they were! Once the edit was locked, I mustered up the courage the show the film to Vishal Bhardwaj, a man I trust and respect immensely. Vishal’s reaction gave me strength and courage to continue.
At each stage of this ‘vada-pao’ production, a friend came and helped push the cart forward. Anil Girkar gave us sound equipment never asking for dues, Mrs. Asha Kapoor, Ex-Principal of Holy Family and Fr. Swamy S.J. Principal of Holy Family High School who opened the doors of their school for the workshop, the teachers of the school who willingly participated and played their parts, Karan Johar who literally made the entire team of Dharma Productions available to us, Apoorva Mehta, counselor, guide and friend, and finally my soul-mate Deepa Bhatia,. She’s the master weaver of this dabba…anyone can tell that it took shape on her edit table.
I am also grateful to Fox Star Studios for coming on board and bringing the film out to the nation. But my biggest, biggest hugs for the children…Partho, Abhishek, Numaan, Monty, Leo, Ganesh, Tijo, Sai Sharan Shetty and Walter…my little friends.
Three Cheers to my extended dabba family…Hip Hip Hurray!
(PS – Click here to read the post which Amole wrote during the release of Taare Zameen Par)