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Review Gujarati

Chhello Show review: Nostalgic look at a bygone era of cinema through a child’s eyes

Release Date: 14 Oct 2022

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Sonal Pandya

The semi-autobiographical Gujarati feature by Pan Nalin is visually beautiful.

Those of us who love the movies often remember when and where we were when we first saw our favourite films. There is something about the way that movie made us feel, or the audience that we saw it with, that has etched the memory forever in our minds.

Pan Nalin’s semi-autobiographical Gujarati feature Chhello Show (Last Film Show) captures that essence in the story of a boy, Samay (Bhavin Rabari), who discovers his passion in life with cinema. A family trip to a single-screen theatre, Galaxy, shows Samay the wonder of the big screen and the nine-year-old is hooked.

Cutting class and ditching family responsibilities, the rebellious Samay returns to try and watch movies free but is soon kicked out. With a twist of fate, he befriends the kind projectionist Fazal (Bhavesh Shrimali) who allows him to watch films from the projection booth, in exchange for his tiffin, filled with love and Gujarati delicacies by Samay’s mother (Richa Meena).

The sequences where she prepares these meals are also a pleasure to watch.

Soon, Samay is picking up the tools of the trade as an assistant and figuring out how to create his own projection booth and theatre. The little boy is already a storyteller, using printed, colourful matchboxes to narrate tales to his best pals, whose fathers all work at the train station where Samay’s father works, too.

Together, the gang of six traipse across the Kathiawadi landscape and create their own little cinematic arthouse, hidden away from the world, in an abandoned building, where they fashion their own projector, using junk and discarded items. The boys resort to stealing reels off packed crates that are stored at the railway station before being sent out to distributors across Gujarat.

But as they rejoice in their newfound happiness, the world around them is changing. Set in 2010, the film-reel cinematic technology is on the wane as the shift to digital is but imminent. The news has a profound effect on both Fazal and Samay, who both have to re-examine their lives ahead despite their love for cinema.

Samay’s father (Dipen Raval) has a reckoning of his own as he has fallen on hard times and believes the world of cinema unfit for an upper-caste man like himself.

The young Bhavin Rabari, in his debut, is a natural. Small, wiry, curious, he instantly captivates the viewer as he falls in love with cinema, transfixed by the light and dark that make up the images on the screen. Samay’s eventual loss of innocence is heartbreaking.

Shrimali, as the projectionist who has seen it all but is considerate enough to share his knowledge, is also charming. Samay’s gang, who aid him in all the escapades, is delightful.

The real star of Chhello Show, however, is Swapnil S Sonawane’s cinematography, which captures the nostalgia of childhood and the devotion to cinema in every frame. The long extended sequence where a film projector and reels are taken away and meet their inevitable fate will devastate any cinephile.

The feature also reminded me of the award-winning documentary, The Cinema Travellers (2018), directed by Amit Madheshiya and Shirley Abraham, which also explored the shift from reel to digital in parts.

While the finale is a bit sudden and uneven, Pan ends his film on a hopeful note, paying homage to all the great filmmakers who have inspired countless film buffs worldwide, from Satyajit Ray to David Lean. His loving reverence for the medium and his examination of his past shines through this very personal film that will have you remembering the times you fell in love in cinema as well.

Chhello Show (Last Film Show) was the opening gala feature at the 20th Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles held from 28 April to 1 May and the opening film at the 3rd International Gujarati Film Festival held from 20–22 May.


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