Pan Nalin’s Gujarati film Chhello Show (Last Film Show) has been making major waves post its premiere at Tribeca Film Festival. Now, the picture gets a UK Premiere at Blue Orchid Hotels London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) and Birmingham Indian Film Festival (BIFF).
Samay (Bhavin Rabari), a 9-year-old boy living with his family in a remote village in India discovers films for the first time and is absolutely mesmerised. Against. his father’s wishes, he returns to the cinema day after day to watch more films and even befriends the projectionist, Fazal (Bhavesh Shrimali). He, in exchange for his lunch box, lets him watch movies for free.
The child quickly figures out that stories become light, then films which further translate to dreams. Samay and his wild gang of friends move heaven and earth to catch and project light to achieve a 35mm film projection. Together, they use an innovative hack and jubilantly succeed in making a film projection apparatus.
From the beaming light of the projector to heavy metallic machines, objects are presented as instrumental characters. The filmmaker gives life to desolate and dilapidated buildings, whereby the aspirations of the protagonist brighten every doom and gloom aspect. Even though Samay is from a financially challenged family, Nalin does not adopt the stereotypical ‘Slumdog‘ approach in glorifying the economical shortcomings. In fact, we understand how these children are compelled to mature quickly and become street-smart survive and thrive.
Scenes of the kids creating foley to their own created cinema experience are poignant yet heart-breaking to watch. These sequences showcase the innocence of passion, a phase that we all as adults have faced at some point in our life. The visual of reels spinning and trains profoundly depicts the circle of life. This is reinforced further by Fazal singing the RD Burman song “Zindagi Ke Safar Mein”. This song highlights how moments of life pass and evolve. Through such representations, Nalin makes this ‘dream’ into a reverence of sorts.
I find it fascinating how the cinema building itself plays an omnipresent role. Despite being broken, it stands tall with the changing times. The place acts like an old friend which supports Samay at every point in life. Fascinating to see how magnum opuses like Jodhaa Akbar and Khuda Gawah in a way represent the lead character’s alter-ego. Given that both of these titles are period films, it depicts his ‘epic’ battle with his dreams and the factors surrounding it.
The narrative is smoothly presented in a linear structure as the gradual pace allows viewers to get emotionally invested in the story and characters within it. Enchanting cinematography and crisp editing help to enhance the visual appeal, especially shots of the rural landscape. These depict the liberation of the kids to dream and aspire. As time progresses, we see how digital cinema taking over has impacted the jobs of the reel projectionists in cinemas. Though I feel, that change is not easy, not all are destructive. In some way, I feel this cinema development is portrayed in a somewhat negative way when could be interpreted as a positive shift, especially because the digital mediums have saved cinema from catastrophe during the pandemic.
Furthermore, there is a repetition line on how ‘Bhramins can’t work in films as the film industry is dirty’, (or something along those lines). I believe that such tropes are not really needed and could have been done away with. We are living in a polarising atmosphere already and such statements should not add more fuel to the fire, unnecessarily. Thankfully though, the picture is not focused on communal aspects, which is a huge relief. It’s great that the onus is on humanity and the dreams of a young boy.
What makes Chhello Show so appealing is the concept resonates with every cinephile. Growing up, I shared the same passion as Samay. What was escapism for others, becomes his lifeline, in a way. The movie is momentous for Gujarati cinema. The realistic yet fantastical element pays homage to earlier fantastical and allegorical movies like Bhavni Bhavai and Hun Hunshi Hunshilal. With the language cinema being on a revival, Last Film Show pushes the envelope further and deserves to be celebrated. As a Gujarati myself, proud that we get to see such content getting support worldwide. An absolute masterpiece!
Watch our interview with director Pan Nalin here:
For more information on Blue Orchid Hotels London Indian Film Festival and BIFF here. It kicks off from 23rd June till 3rd July.