The casual cine-goer might remember him as Bhope, the comic don from Kaminey; the cineaste, as the screenwriter of Taare Zameen Par. Gupte now slips into another avatar, that of a director, with Stanley ka Dabba. He talks to us about the film and working with children. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What is ‘Stanley ka Dabba’ about?
Chalk talk: Gupte plays a grumpy teacher in his directorial debut.
Partho plays the role of Stanley, a spunky kid, in the film. Set in a school, my film is essentially about recesses, children bonding over tiffin boxes and learning to stand up for each other. It’s about lifelong bonds. Remember the phrase “childhood friend”?
The film emerged from a workshop. Tell us more.
Holy Family High School in Andheri (Mumbai) also happens to be my alma mater. I decided to go back there to hold a workshop; to the smells of the classroom, to the tiffin boxes of childhood.
Through the film, I have tried to relay the message that you don’t need to put children through gruelling 12-hour schedules. We made this film by befriending the children. It was all voluntary, the shooting was done only on Saturdays and we didn’t even ask the children to take off their uniforms. In that way, I think ?this film is the first of its ?kind.?We really? need to ?change the ?rules ?when ?it ?comes ?to ?the ?monstrous shifts and reality shows.
You shot the film only on Saturdays. How did you get the professional actors to shoot on such a strange schedule?
I’m really thankful to Raj Zutshi, Divya Dutta and other actors who approached this film with the spirit of amateur theatre. They play the secondary roles of teachers, peons, etc. They’re busy, yet they managed to come to the school for 4 hours every Saturday.
Honestly, I hadn’t promised myself a film when I began working with these children.
Tell us about your acting roles.
All my characters are quirky, right from Bhope to the piles-afflicted politician in Phas Gaye Re Obama. In Urumi, a Malayalam film, I followed a comic trail. I try never to repeat myself. Acting helps fuel my films with money, though this movie was produced on peanuts. The khadoos (grumpy) teacher I play in Stanley is an essential part of every child’s school life.
This film marks your directorial debut. How was it working with children?
I don’t direct children. I play with them. The script for this film was ready in 2008. It took me one-and-a-half years to make it. But I always knew that I won’t stick to regular techniques. Not a single child out of the 500 that feature in it missed a day of school. Sundays remained holidays, as they should be.
Stanley ka Dabba releases on 13 May.