The final film for my fiftyfiftyme challenge for 2012 was also the saddest. It was billed as sweet, and there was plenty of sweetness in it, but I spent most of the movie stunned into sadness bordering on tears.
The story of a young orphan boy who excels at school but is victimised by a gluttonous teacher for not having a tiffin box he can steal from, Stanley ka dabba was a powerful reminder to me of just how alien India is to my my life experience. Watching a starving child being abused for writing with his left hand and for having no food, watching a depiction of teachers who work only by rote, I couldn’t help being grateful for the accident of my birth in the First World, and deeply saddened by the world the movie showed.
The remarkable thing about this film is that although it infected me with a deep sadness, it bubbled with positivity and smiles. Even the very end, which I found as heartbreaking as the rest of the film, was presented as a happy ending. And it was, in the context of Stanley’s world. The film does not pull any fairy godmothers out of its hat to magically give Stanley the sort of life that pampered, self-centred Westerners assume is normal for children. Instead, it shows a boy whose triumph is in finding his own happiness where he can, and then challenges its viewers to do something about the issue of child labour.
Made on a very low budget in careful conditions that avoided any child exploitation, this was an unsettling end to my filmi journey for 2012. Watching it on the day that the victim of a brutal gang rape in Delhi died in a Singapore hospital just served to emphasise that, in the immortal words of John Clarke, “we don’t know how lucky we are, mate”