The past year has been a strange one for Indian cinema. On one hand, it’s seen unexpected successes from films like Kashmir Files (2022) and Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022), even while the Hindi film industry weathered a series of commercial failures. On the other, S.S. Rajmouli’s RRR (2022) broke records and garnered international attention for its spectacle-driven storytelling. The film was tipped to be a favourite for the official Indian selection for the Oscars but last week, the Film Federation of India (FFI) surprised everyone by selecting Gujarati film Chhello Show (Last Film Show) by Pan Nalin as India’s nomination for Best Foreign Feature. Chhello Show is expected to release in India next month and is an ode to the the wonder of celluloid film. Here is everything you need to know about the film and its director Pan Nalin.
Nalin has said in interviews that knew he was a storyteller even before he watched his first film. Born in a small village near Gir Forest in Gujarat, the director and his friends would collect matchboxes with pictures on them and create stories, much like a modern storyboard. A self-taught filmmaker who began his filmmaking career with non-fiction documentaries, Nalin made his fiction debut with Samsara (2001), which won multiple awards during its film festival run. He went on direct and co-write Valley of Flowers (2006) — the Hindi dialogues for which were provided by Anurag Kashyap — starring Milind Soman, Naseeruddin Shah and Mylène Jampanoï. Both films share similarities in their picturesque mountainous setting and the themes of all-consuming passion.
Nalin’s next full-length feature was Angry Indian Goddesses (2015), which revolved around seven women and grappled with issues of misogyny, queerness and justice. Powered by a terrific ensemble cast comprising Sarah-Jane Dias, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Rajshri Deshpande and more, the film was widely praised for its portrayal of modern Indian womanhood.
Nalin’s latest film fiction feature film is an semi-autobiographical narrative, inspired by the director’s own childhood spent in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat and the abiding love he developed for the cinema. Releasing on October 14, the story follows a young boy (played by Bhavin Rabari) and his unlikely friendship with the projectionist of a single-screen threatre. Interspersed with sequences of the discouragement most artists face in rural society, the trailer also hints at the impact of film digitalisation and the way it turned single-screen cinema halls and their projectionists obsolete. “I wasn’t nostalgic about celluloid disappearing but [...] when did all this become so elite? I realised there was something nice about my childhood, as I travelled more and made co-productions with Europe and Japan. I realised that I missed that innocence – life was so simple,” said the director about why he chose to make the film.
Produced by Siddharth Roy Kapur’s banner Roy Kapur films, the film had its world premiere as the opening film at Robert DeNiro's Tribeca Film Festival in June 2021. It has won multiple awards across various international film festivals, including the Golden Spike at the 66th Valladolid Film Festival in Spain, where it also enjoyed commercial success during its theatrical run. IndieWire’s review of the film reads: “Even at its most adorable or heart-tugging, ‘Last Film Show’ retains a layer of gauziness that keeps it from growing twee; this is a downbeat film that doesn’t ask to be watched so much as looked through.” In an interview with Times of India, Nalin said, “It's soon releasing in Italy, it's coming in the US in November. It's hitting theatres in Japan in January (2023). And mind you, none of the distributors who are releasing this film has released an Indian film till date.” Featuring stunning visuals of the Sasan-Gir area and what looks like a promising coming-of-age story, Chhello Show is expected to open to much excitement on its countrywide release.