Competing with S.S. Rajamouli’s global blockbuster RRR and Vivek Agnihotri’s box-office hit The Kashmir Files for India’s entry to the 95th Academy Awards or Oscars was no child’s play. But Pan Nalin’s Gujarati film Chhello Show—The Last Film Show in English—slowly pierced its way through, surprising many to become the jury’s favourite.
“If you want to make a film, you must know how to tell a story” — these words from Chhello Show earnestly capture the essence of the film. At the centre of this love letter to cinema is a 9-year-old boy Samay (Bhavin Rabari) from Chalala village in Gujarat who lives with his mother (Richa Meena), father (Dipen Raval), and a younger sibling. Going to school and selling tea at his father’s stall at a railway station an average day in Samay’s monotonous life.
An ode to cinema
At a time when movies were shot using analogue film cameras and played via projectors, Samay is bedazzled with the allure of cinema. He is drawn to the magic of filmmaking like fish to water. His obsession increases to a point where he begins to steal money to watch movies, lies at home, plays hooky with classes and travels for two hours on a train just to watch films. Things take an interesting turn when he meets Fazal (Bhavesh Shrimali), a film projectionist who he slowly befriends. Thereon begins a journey of Samay’s thought mill running overtime to conceptualise ideas on screen and to eventually conceive his cinematic dreams.
“The future belongs to storytellers,” a character says in the film, defining Samay’s passion and — ironically — underlining the shift in tide and evolving trends of Indian cinema. In a year where major projects like Laal Singh Chaddha and Shamshera have failed to bring audiences to theatres, Chhello Show reiterates the power of compelling writing and mesmerising stories.
Besides exploring a young boy’s big dreams of ‘capturing’ light and making movies, Nalin’s film—admittedly autobiographical—touches upon the metamorphosis of cinema and theatres. The film, a personal, moving tale of admiration for cinema is endearing and deserves to be celebrated regardless of its performance at the Oscars.
‘Chhello Show’ is a class apart
Ever since its nomination, Chhello Show has often been compared with Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso but the treatment of the story is largely different. As opposed to the latter’s focus on the protagonist and his equation with the projectionist, the Gujarati film traces Samay’s fixation with cinema.
How many times have you watched a film, knowing full well where it is headed but you can’t take your eyes off owing to the magic weaved on-screen? In many ways, Chhello Show is just that. Nalin, who has earlier made films like Samsara, Valley Of Flowers, and Angry Indian Goddesses has managed to create a captivating world. It is not the most perfect film, but its heartwarming story and treatment of central characters make you root for it. Anyone who has ever loved cinema and the magic of celluloid—or for that matter, loved anything dearly—would find themselves immersed in the enchanting world this film so brilliantly creates. Perhaps, it will make you fall in love with films, yet again.
(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)