Food as a Barrier
by Abhishek Das
In the film Stanley Ka Dabba (2011), directed by Amole Gupte, food serves as a unifying connection between individuals of differing social classes in a small Christian school in India. Throughout the majority of the film, the protagonist, Stanley, is a fun-loving and mischievous student who asks for food from all of his peers during lunch time each day in school. Stanley is an orphan who works as a child laborer in a small, damp restaurant where he is abused, forcibly being thrust into a low social class. After months of begging for food from his classmates, he is ousted by a teacher who curiously asks for food from his peers. Through cinematographic elements and interactions that unify Stanley to those around him, difference in social class is distinguishable but tolerated.
As Stanley interacts daily with his school friends, they offer him food every day so that he does not feel left out from the group, showing that his low social class has little bearing on his interactions with his friends. Normally in Indian society, children of lower class would not be allowed to go to school. Stanley and his friends, however, hide his class and share amazing foods prepared in similar fashion to obento boxes. The obento box-like dabbas, or lunch boxes, serve as a means for friendship to take power over differences in societal class. This togetherness the friends all felt to support Stanley is seen in Figure 1.
Close-up shots throughout the film also support the notion that food forms a unifying connection among Stanley and those around him. Towards the beginning of the movie, a scene where a spicy chicken masala was being garnished with fresh green cilantro was depicted. It was especially noticeable that Stanley looked at this dish with longing eyes, yearning for a chance to try it. After having a bite, he realized that, although he is of lower social class, he can still enjoy food with the people he loves, no matter the social class.
Lighting is also a key cinematographic element that helps enhance Stanley’s relationship with the people around him. In the film, Stanley’s primary interactions with friends and teachers took place near windows where the sunlight would stream down into their presence. This symbolic light emphasized a high level of care that others felt towards Stanley and his success. Oftentimes, Ms. Rosy, Stanley’s favorite teacher, was shown with a significant amount of light in the scene. This loving energy Ms. Rosy shows and her presence in light make Stanley feel welcomed in a place where he did not belong.
In Stanley Ka Dabba, food became a way for Stanley to feel included amongst those he loved in a society that oftentimes rejects people of his “inferior” social class. Through cinematographic elements and interactions though food between Stanley and people in his school, his sense of social belonging is achieved.
Stanley Ka Dabba, Dir. Amole Gupte. Fox Star Studios. 2011.