“I want to study light. Because light becomes stories. Stories become films.”
India’s entry at this year’s Academy Award for Best International Film, Chhello Show, or Last Film Show, is one of my favorite films of the year—and it will only be in theaters for a few more days at Apple Cinemas Cambridge. See it on the big screen before you miss your chance!
Samay (Bhavin Rabari), a young boy from a religiously devout but poor Brahmin family in Chalala, Gujara hasn’t seen a movie since he was old enough to talk. His father, Bapuji (Dipen Raval), thinks the movie business is too slimy for Brahmins like them—his way of maintaining caste honor as a struggling tea salesperson. When a religious movie shows in a nearby town’s single-screen theater, the family makes an exception—an exception that changes Samay’s life. He stands awestruck at the Galaxy Cinema Movies as if he stood before the entire Milky Way. The dust particles floating in the light of the projector look sublime seen through the eyes of the stupefied Samay. Movies, or more accurately, the wonder behind how light can be used to tell stories, become the sole concern to this nine-year old.
Unfortunately, his oddly loving though strict father is set in his anti-cinema stance. Samay sneaks back into the crummy Galaxy only to get thrown out by the manager. As he pouts outside, a shirtless and hungry man notices how appetizing the boy’s food looks; in no mood to eat, Samay gives him his lunch and tells him about his failed attempt to see the day’s picture. The man, it turns out, is the projectionist (Bhavesh Shrimali as Fazal). The two of them work out an agreement that involves Samay bringing his mom’s food, whom he swears is the best cook in the world, and Fazal will let him tag along from the projector booth.
The agreement also allows director Pan Nalin to consistently pair food and film. The two go together like images and sound because humans need stories the same way we require food to sustain us. Samay’s life, without the excuse of movies, is pitiful. With movies, it’s magical. “I want to study light. Because light becomes stories. Stories become films,” he says with the conviction only a child can have. Fazal, by contrast, doesn’t even watch the movies anymore, and his life has lost all of the magic. It’s not that Samay (or Nalin) thinks of the cinema as a cheap escapist trick to distract from life’s real struggles; the boy’s relationship with visual storytelling is stronger than that. Movies are beautiful because they are made by humans with stories to tell.
Before you ask, no, it’s not an Indian remake of the classic Italian film Cinema Paradiso (1988). It’d be more accurate to think of Last Film Show as a participant in a subgenre of which Cinema Paradiso is the best exemplar. For starters, the film is shot in Gujarati, a language spoken only by 4.5% of the country. India’s famous for its remakes—the latest of which being Laal Singh Chaddha (2022), an officially licensed remake of Forrest Gump—but these tend to be remade into Hindi from lesser spoken Indian languages. To call it a remake disrespects both films. Samay, unlike Cinema Paradiso’s Salvatore, doesn’t become a filmmaker; without speaking English, the dream barely even tempts him. His dream is to watch movies—to have the freedom to consume the stories of magical stories about light.
Still, like Cinema Paradiso and Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans (2022—still in theaters), this movie about movies can’t help but directly and indirectly reference the artform’s great canonical works. I’m not even sure I’d want to see a movie about movies that doesn’t, in some capacity, feel devotional. Palin’s latest wastes no time or energy hiding this, beginning with a pre-title card thanking the Lumière brothers, Eadweard Muybridge, David Lean, Stanley Kubrick, and Andrei Tarkovsky for “illuminating the path.” Yet, this work is more mature than many films built around references to cinematic history, as the final moments make evident. Almost as if acknowledging how the medium and industry have grown up, he ends by thanking a wider and more diverse collection of filmmakers than he started with, including Kathryn Bigelow, Spike Lee, Yasujirō Ozu, Steven Spielberg, and, of course, Satyajit Ray—India’s historically most critically acclaimed director.
Last Film Show was released in the United States on December 2, but only a week into its theatrical run and Apple, Boston’s self-appointed champion of the Indian film industry, seems to be the only theater in Boston still showing it. And bless Apple, but that’s a damn shame.
Last Film Show
dir. Pan Nalin
In theaters only @ Apple Cinema Cambridge.