A moving ode to cinema, challenges of growing up and dreaming big

Story: Dreams are free but a shot at wanting to live them comes at a cost. Can you leave people and things behind that shaped your childhood to chase that tiny ray of hope that may change your life?

Review: Set in the lush green, beautiful village in Gujarat called ‘Chalala’, the film is an autobiographical tale of the director (Pan Nalin) and his childhood rooted in wonder, wishful thinking and discovery of cinema’s transportive power. Samay (Bhavin Rabari) is the son of a chaiwala (tea seller). When not assisting at his father’s tea stall on a railway station, the young boy with dishevelled hair likes to spend time outside the school, collecting random things that catch his eye. His father (Dipen Raval) reminds him that they belong to an upper caste and his fascination for films doesn’t align with their middle class values. ‘Watching films (barring the ones on God) aren’t respectable enough’. The boy smirks before retaliating, “And you sell tea! My teacher says, “There are only two castes — ones who speak English and the ones who cannot.”

Reprimanded several times for his wayward ways, Samay finds solace at a crumbling single screen theatre in a nearby town. Unable to afford movie tickets, he strikes an unlikely friendship with the projectionist, Fazal (Bhavesh Shrimali). The boy barters his home cooked scrumptious meal made by his mother (Richa Meena) in return for free access to Fazal’s room and thus movies. Larger than life films awaken the kid’s soul and help him discover a world beyond his mundane life and financial crisis. However, Samay doesn’t seek a momentary escape through films like most do. He wants to achieve the impossible — he wishes to learn how they are made.

Chhello Show, also titled ‘Last Film Show’ is an ode to cinema no doubt but more than that, it doffs its hat to ‘attempt’. The most courageous thing in life is to take that first tiny step towards changing something instead of accepting your fate. India’s official entry to the Oscars is an uplifting film that salutes the human spirit that doesn’t wallow in self-pity. It’s about people who are poor but not miserable. While Samay – Fazal’s friendship can remind you of Toto and Alfredo’s enduring friendship in Cinema Paradiso (1988), the film bears no other resemblance to the Italian classic. The speculation on an inspired film competing for an Oscar can rest peacefully as Chhello Show is unique and poignant in its own way. Does it deserve to be India’s official entry for the Oscars? Yes, a resounding yes.

Gorgeous imagery, moving relationships, an empathetic gaze and a powerful dialogue on caste and class, Nalin’s film is a gripping observation of people and how they inhabit their surroundings. The tea stall with an uncertain future, the dying culture of single screen cinemas, the advent of digital over film, Broad gauge replacing Metre gauge railway tracks… Chhello Show embodies change and how that is evident. Whether you want to move ahead with time or hold onto the past is a choice. The story unfolds in an unhurried way, ensuring we are invested in Samay’s everyday life and its minutiae. Sound even in silence and visuals infuse life into the storytelling. The humour is clever and passage of time, a reminder of what lies ahead. Lead child actor Bhavin Rabari is an excellent find as he isn’t conscious of his surroundings. His ragtag group of supportive friends are equally engaging. The sight and aroma of food are used skilfully.

To cut to the chase, barring a few meandering bits, Chhello Show is a moving ode to cinema, challenges of growing up and dreaming big. It deserves to be watched on the big screen.

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