CHHELLO SHOW (2022) aka LAST FILM SHOW

Bhavin Rabari in a still
  • Release Date: 25/11/2022
  • Platform: Netflix
  • Cast: Bhavin Rabari, Bhavesh Srimali, Richa Meena, Dipen Raval   
  • Director: Pan Nalin

Pan Nalin’s love letter to cinema, dreams, aspiration and resolve is a heartwarming watch

— Ambar Chatterjee

Over the last few months, you must have heard about a little Gujarati film called Chhello Show AKA Last Film Show. The film came into the news when it was picked ahead of RRR and The Kashmir Files by the Film Federation of India to represent India at the Oscars next year. No one, literally no one who follows Indian films had heard of this film. Not even the Gujaratis. It was never released in theaters before its selection. Not even in Gujarat. It was only released on the film streaming service MUBI and was even removed from there once it was sent for the Oscar. Thus, it was no surprise that when a film of this nature was nominated ahead of a roaring international hit like RRR or The Kashmir Files, it was bound to create an uproar. The film did see a limited release in India following its selection but didn’t even last a week in theaters and was only released in the metros. However, the film will start streaming on Netflix from 25th and this will give audiences a chance to watch and appreciate it for what is. I was, however, lucky enough to watch the film in theaters in Kolkata during one of my recent visits there.

Chhello Show revolves around an inquisitive, dreamy, resourceful, and courageous kid, Samay (Bhavin Rabari) living in an impoverished village of Gujarat who discovers the magic of dreams and stories through cinema during a visit to the nearby theater with his family. After the experience, all he can think of is about making films and harnessing the power of light, sound and images. The urge to know more about the process and the world of cinema becomes so overpowering that it makes him do things and go distances that violently upset the status quo in his life. He befriends a projectionist of a nearby theater and in his company his dreams take wings. Soon a time comes when Samay’s dreams become larger than the place he is living in and he has to make a choice between living a life that has been pre-decided for him or let his dreams dictate his flight.  

Chhello Show reminded me of one of the most wonderful times of my life. A time when I discovered my love for cinema and the magic of films holding my elder brothers’ hands. I was of the same age as Samay when my brother took me to the nearby Udeshna Cinema Hall (Near Down Town Hospital, Dispur) regularly and we both enjoyed the latest offerings from Bollywood, Hollywood, and on rare occasions, the Assamese film industry. I was more enamored by the movie-watching experience than I was by the films that we watched. I was delighted to note that Pan Nalin, the director of Chhello Show realized this aspect of a child’s version of movie watching experience in theaters and beautifully documented it in his film. The first time Samay is taken to a theater by his father, we see him carefully examine every nook and corner of the theater including the tickets. While his father reminds him repeatedly that this will be his first and last film, Samay and the audience know full well that this was just the beginning of Samay’s love affair with cinema and our love affair with Chhello Show.

The performances in the film are consistently brilliant. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the film is primarily played out between Bhavin Rabari and Bhavesh Srimali who plays the projectionist, Fazal. The interactions between the two are at the core of the film’s subject and heart. Fazal and Samay are dependent on each other for their respective sustenance. Fazal shows and teaches Samay about the process of filmmaking and projection, thus fueling his dreams and ambitions and keeping his soul nourished. Samay, on the other hand, brings Fazal the kind of food that his heart desires. The director intercuts between sequences showing Samay watching films and exploring his way through the process of projection and Fazal enjoying the food with his eyes closed. Nalin also goes into great detail about the preparation of the food elevating the visual presentation of it and also adding a lot to the moments that capture Fazal enjoying it.

Richa Meena as Samay’s mother and Dipen Raval as Samay’s Father are equally brilliant. They do most of their talking through expressions and they are so life-like that it is hard to not take them for the characters that they are playing. As the film progresses, the characters of Meena and Raval assume greater importance. I was disarmed by the climactic scene where Raval finally understands his son’s dreams and aspirations and decides to do something to forward them. Meena’s display of subtle affection for Samay is documented throughout the film and this adds a sense of nurturing love and care to certain sequences that a moment before was about punishment or harsh words.

Chhello Show is beautifully shot. Almost every frame of it is hypnotic in its beauty but at the same time subtle and realistic in its presentation of its world. Some of the frames of the film are so beautiful that they are worthy of being printed and hung on the walls as pieces of art. Even the poster of the film is a straight screen grab and there are many more frames that they could have used similarly. I loved how the director and the DOP imaginatively used mundane things to create artistically and visually disarming set pieces and imagery.  

Chhello Show relates a heartwarming story. Many are comparing it to Cinema Paradiso. I haven’t seen Cinema Paradiso and hence cannot comment on it but as a standalone film that sets out to tell a story and envelope the audiences with its drama and storytelling, Chhello Show was a success for me. It is also a film about hope and dreams and how they are the most potent inspirations in the world and can further a story with the kind of rigor that only an insatiable desire for vengeance can.  

I still believe that RRR would have been a better bet for India in the “Best Foreign language film” category at the Oscars. Also, I loved RRR more than I loved this film. Having said that, Chhello Show is a very different film from RRR and definitely an astounding achievement in terms of cinema, storytelling, acting, and sheer heart that Pan Nalin successfully infuses into the film. It is as much a film about cinema and food as it is about a boy’s journey into understanding and falling in love with cinema to an extent that all he can see around him are stories, characters, and actors.

Richa Meena in a still

There comes a time in the film when Samay’s beloved theater does away with its analog projection system and its illiterate Projectionist transforming into a digital theater. Samay follows the discarded machinery and film prints from the theater to the factory where they are dismantled, melted, and transformed into a plethora of different items. This should ideally have been an upsetting and heartbreaking sequence but how this entire portion of the film plays out teaches us a lot about optimism and how nothing is ever destroyed or lost but only changes its form from one state to another. Even the projectionist finds a different calling and is quickly able to get his life back on track. Isn’t that what the essence of life should to be?

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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