Mumbai: They were supposed to be weekends full of cinema and theatre workshops for students of his alma mater, but a year and a half down the line, screenplay writer Amole Gupte of Taare Zameen Par fame has a whole film, Stanley Ka Dabba, ready.
"I didn't plan a film at all. It started with a cinema and theatre session at Holy Family High School in Andheri - the school I went to when I was a child. The way I do cinema and theatre sessions at my Pali Chimbai Municipal School, I decided to do this in my school on Saturdays.
"So on Saturdays for over one and a half years, and in vacation months for a week, I set the paradigm of being with the children. I stayed with them for four hours maximum only on a holiday. Not a single child lost a day of school during the filming and at the end of the workshop we have a film in our hand. That's 'Stanley Ka Dabba'," Gupte told in an interview.
The workshop was meant to make children experience different kinds of cinema. "This was one and a half years of acting in cinema and theatre workshops in which the children got a sense of how to present themselves in front of the camera," he said.
Gupte says educating the children was his primary motive.
"I shot in the workshop sessions. Say in today's session I shot two scenes and again at another session I shot another three scenes. Somewhere two-three days down the line, I thought it could be put in time line and it can become a film; otherwise it's a workshop; it's about educating the children," he said.
It's not a children's film though, he says.
"It's not a children film. It's essentially with children but it's a universal film. The definition of children film in India is, unfortunately, something very dumb, something that is very accessible," said Gupte.
Of the film, he further said: "It's about bonding, it's about friendship, it's about going back to your classroom and remembering your sweetheart teachers, your 'khadoos' (strict) teachers, your best friends and the smell of the tiffin boxes when you open them in the recess. I don't think any child is able to resist the dabbas. That's the metaphor - bonding of children through a tiffin box."
Gupte had the sketchy story registered long ago.
"I had a story, which was locked in 2008. There was a registered property called Stanley Ka Dabba. I had to see how close I could get to the story," said Gupte.
How did he get funding for the film?
"It took me two years. I was doing only at the rate of around four and a half hours, that too on Saturdays. Rest of the days I was investing in looking at the materials, writing other stuff, trying to act in other people's films so that I could fund this one as I have produced it. I funded it for peanuts. It's a very cheap film," said Gupte.
There were 170 Holy Family students who attended the workshop, while another 100 came and went. He had put up a concert for another school where 250 children performed. "I just shot the concert in a single take."
None of the children had the faintest idea that they were being shot for a full-fledged film until they were shown it after completion, says Gupte.
"I shot it very naturally, with no big set-ups, with a digital camera. There was nothing that would make you feel that you are in a film set. The children didn't even know that a film was being made on their action. That's why it's such a precious film," said Gupte.
Gupte thanked Fox Star Studios for taking up the responsibility of marketing and distributing the film across India.
"I think every film needs to be promoted. I wish we were 20 years ago when it could go on its own steam but now it has to catch fire first. I am so glad that FOX is standing with me and helping me build a bridge with the media," said Gupte.
Keeping summer vacations in mind, Stanley Ka Dabba is set to release on May 13.