Chhello Show movie: India’s official entry to Oscars leaves a mark with its release

Poster of the film Chello Show

Pan Nalin’s Chhello Show is an ode to the magical world of cinema and takes the viewer back to the age of analogue and celluloid reels. 

Sanjana Chawla | 

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Cinema and drama are what unite people across ages, time, and space. Ever since its inception in the late 1890s, films in India have been a medium for eliciting emotions, desires, aspirations, magic, and hopes.

India’s official selection for the 95th Academy Awards—Pan Nalin’s Gujarati-language semi-autobiographical film Chhello Show—stands true to the virtues of cinema and pays homage to the art of filmmaking. Released in English as ‘Last Film Show’, the film has been chosen under the Best International Feature Oscar category. Recipient of the Golden Spike Award, as well as the Audience Award, Nalin’s film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2021

With a run time of 1 hour and 52 minutes, the film is based in Chalala, a village in Saurashtra, Gujarat, India. Starring Bhavin Rabari, Vikas Bata, Richa Meena, Bhavesh Shrimali, Dipen Raval and Rahul Koli, the film revolves around the world of Indian cinema and is set against the backdrop of the transition from celluloid or analogue films to digital and mechanisation. 

Chhello Show opens with a sequence of the railway track and it is then that the protagonist of the film Samay (Bhavin Rabari), a nine-year-old boy belonging to an upper caste Brahmin family is introduced. He runs and plays across the railway tracks with a bow and also sells tea every day to help his father (played by Dipen Raval) earn for their family of four. Samay is shown in a wandering, shabby, unkempt avatar who has his moment of awakening only when he goes to a local theatre to see a film. Wary of the field of cinema and filmmaking as his father establishes that “Cinema is a dirty world”, Samay tries to hold back, only to fail. Fueled with fascination and curiosity, he starts finding his space in single-screen theatres and sneakily starts missing his classes in school to catch a train to reach a local film hall in the town. He starts slow and takes one day at a time so that his parents don’t get to know. However, his passion overpowers and he not only bribes the projectionist (played by Bhavesh Shrimali) with food to let him see films for free but also learns how the films are edited and screened. All goes well until he and his friends get caught stealing film reels and are put in a juvenile correction centre. But Samay’s life takes a downward spiral when all the reel single-screen theatres are shut ahead of their transition to digital screens. It was Samay’s innate love for light and films that he learned so much that he started making his own projector setup using tyres, tins, bulbs, broken glasses and lids with his friends.

Chhello Show reflects child-like innocence and desire, fueled with hints of rebellion and challenge. With visually pleasing cinematography and an interesting screenplay, the film manages to hold the audience till the end. Deep and rich in its theme, the film unfolds beautifully and offers a rather insightful take on the world of seeing and making movies. Samay’s character is full of flavour and taste as he evokes his skills as a creative storyteller and a passionate cinephile. From collecting matchboxes of the railway tracks and building a tale around them to using his mother’s white saree as a screen and splicing sequences from film reels and weaving them together—the performance of Rabari aka Chello Show’s Samay makes for an impressive case. 

Making most of the use of natural and coloured lights, the film’s lightscape is a surreal, illuminating, and dreamy one. The film offers a juxtaposition of momentous and heart-wrenching moments all in a span of almost two hours. An usher of high gets instilled every time the protagonist and his friends successfully mount the projector and create visuals through it. On the same lines, the spectator can not help but feel moved when the projectors are loaded in a van and converted into scrap. But here it is where the film takes an aesthetic turn. While on one hand, Nalin shows the downfall of the analogous 35mm cinema, on the other hand, a parallel universe full of machine and reel waste is created. 

Walter Benjamin in his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” argued that art loses its meaning and cultural and aesthetic value when it is mechanically reproduced. But the director shows the mechanisation of cinema while giving a new life to the traditional form of cinema. So, as Samay embarks on a new journey and leaves his village to pursue his cinematic dreams, he again boards a train and encounters a group of women wearing bangles in all colours of a spectrum. For those women, it may be just bangles, but to the aspiring cinematographer, they are a reflection of the actors, directors, and screenwriters behind the films we see. 

A wholesome, moving and hearty watch, Chhello Show pays homage to the institution of cinema while celebrating and keeping the experience of watching films in theatres alive.

Sanjana Chawla is a journalism student at AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi and a freelance writer. She covers stories on women, society, culture, lifestyle, and entertainment.