Pan Nalin, the director of ‘Last Film Show’ (Chello Show) — India’s official entry to Oscars this year — isn’t a new name in the world cinema section. He made ‘Samsara’ in 2001, an independent film which found support from production studios from Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland. ‘Samsara’ won worldwide acclaim and is used to teach filmmaking in several schools.
His ‘Last Film Show’, a Gujarati film, is partly autobiographical. The film is Pan Nalin’s revisiting of childhood, during which he was fascinated about cinema. Each one of us has a story about how excited we were to see moving images on the big screen.
Pan Nalin’s father was a tea seller in a railway station and we see a similar father-son characterisation in the film. There is one part of all of us that is entrained by the action on the big screen. The other part wonders about what goes behind the making of a film. It is curious about the technical steps taken to explain why we see different static images as a motion picture.
The film revolves around a boy (played by Bhavin Rabari), whose father takes him to a nearby town to show him his ‘last film’. In a funny scene, he tells his son that “they are Brahmins and aren’t supposed to indulge themselves in films as they are not good for them”.
But we see the kid mesmerised by the technology of film screening, the beam of light that goes from the projector to the screen. He skips classes as his joy lies in the light flowing from the projector. We see a heart-warming friendship between the boy and the man who works in the projection room.
‘Last Film Show’ is set in the 2010-11 period. That’s when cinema was entering the digital era. The multiplexes had installed digital projectors even as the single screen theatres, which couldn’t afford them, were still coming to terms with the sudden change. Filmmakers stopped making movies with film reels and single screens were forced to adapt to the rapid change.
The boy is taken aback by this development and somewhere, the story connects with us deeply. For instance, when Bajaj stopped scooter manufacturing, we wondered where those vehicles vanished. In the same way, the ‘Last Film Show’ tells the fate of film reels and projectors in the digital era. While the projectors are broken in a metal factory and converted into different items, the reels are taken to some colouring or bangle factories where the colours from the reels are removed and mixed with plastic materials.
The film has many metaphors. The kid’s name is Samay, which means time. It indicates the time when the transition from celluloid to digital happened. The movie is about the elimination of film reels and hence the title ‘Last Film Show’.
As far as the story and the art of storytelling is concerned, the ‘Last Film Show’ scores over SS Rajamouli’s ‘RRR’, which is a big-budget, well-imagined commercial spectacle high on action. The content of ‘Last Film Show’ gives a lot to discuss when compared to ‘RRR’.
Of course, ‘Last Film Show’ isn’t completely a novel idea as it draws references from Giuseppe Tornatore’s ‘Cinema Paradiso’, which is also about a child’s fascination for films. The Gujarati film isn’t a blatant remake as it is rooted in our nativity and more importantly, it’s not an indulgent artsy film.
It’s a fun film with a great reliability factor. For instance, when my uncle told me that the VHS era was coming to an end, I was extremely disappointed. I wondered how easily time can wipe out something that was so close to me in my childhood. ‘Last Film Show’ is a wonderful ode to the celluloid days of cinema. The movie will hit the screens on October 14.
(The writer is a software engineer and film enthusiast. He is the consulting curator for ‘Cinema of the World’ section at BIFFES).
Did 'RRR' have a better chance at the Oscars?
Film writers and cinephiles not just from India but across the globe were shocked that the Film Federation of India snubbed SS Rajamouli's 'RRR' while picking the country's entry to Oscars. The action drama had gained massive popularity in the West and found a bigger global following when it dropped on Netflix.
The film's fight for an Oscar isn't done yet as Variance Films, the frontrunner of the film's campaign in the US, is aiming to fight for a place in the 'Best Picture Category'. The task can be achieved if they get the several Academy members to watch the film and convince them to vote for it.
"The Film Federation of India is a strange body. In 2013, it was overlooked by western critics who said 'The Lunchbox' should have been India's entry. They ignored that 'The Disciple' was a well recognised Indian film in the west. Now they have ignored the massive love for 'RRR' in the US," wrote author and festival director Aseem Chhabra on Twitter.
"No 'RRR' at the Oscars for international feature. India, for the second time in recent memory, has chosen another film over the one they probably could have won with. The first was them not choosing 'The Lunchbox'", Clayton Davis, senior editor, at Variety, wrote on Twitter.