Last Film Show Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Pan Nalin
Stars: Bhavin Rabari, Dipen Raval, Bhavesh Shrimali, Richa Meena, Alpesh Tank, Paresh Mehta.
This charming drama from India is infused with the same love and passion for cinema and its transformative power as the classic Cinema Paradiso and Spielberg’s recent semi-autobiographical coming of age film The Fabelmans.
It centres around Samay (Bhavin Rabari), a feisty, energetic, cheeky and intelligent 9-year-old boy who lives in a remote, impoverished region of northern India. His father makes chai for the passengers of the trains that stop briefly at the local railway station. But after a visit to the Galaxy, the cinema in the nearby town, to see a religious epic Samay is hooked and his life is changed. He dreams of becoming a filmmaker himself and telling stories.
He is soon skipping school and sneaking into the cinema, and many scenes highlight clips from many classic Bollywood movies which are full of colour and energy. But Samay is caught and is banned by the owner. He is also punished by his father Bapuji (Dipen Raval). But Fazal (Bhavesh Shrimali) the projectionist takes pit on the boy and smuggles him into the projection booth where Samay takes an interest in what happens there and even learns to operate the 35mm projector. In return he shares his lunch with Fazal. Samay and his small group of friends find a way to steal reels of film, which are temporarily stored in the railway station in the locker room while awaiting transportation to the city, and eventually experiment with ways of creating their own movie screenings.
But times are changing. Electric trains are replacing the old locomotives, which means they will no longer be stopping and Bapuji’s specialist services will no longer be required. And technology is also replacing the art of film projection. There is an element of sadness to this section of the film as Samay follows the fate of the discarded analogue projection equipment and the destruction of hundreds of reels of celluloid which are eventually melted down and reshaped into colourful baubles for the women.
Last Film Show is an ode to the lost art of cinema projection and an evocative celebration of cinema culture, and ends with a roll call of some of the most famous and innovative filmmakers of the twentieth century. There is also an element of food porn to the material as several scenes show Samay’s mother Ba (Richa Meena) lovingly preparing some delicious looking and scrumptious lunch treats, which Samay dutifully shares with Fazal.
But it is newcomer Rabari, who was chosen from some 3000 youngsters who auditioned, who is the beating heart of the film, and he makes for an endearing protagonist, full of charm and an impish quality. His performance is both infectious and natural. His friendship group is made up of local youths who have never acted before. Raval is also good as Samay’s stern and humourless father who thinks that his son’s interest in films and stories is a waste of time.
India’s official entry into the Foreign Film category for the Oscars, Last Film Show is the latest feature from prolific Indian writer/director Pan Nalin (Samsara, etc), and it seems to be both a deeply personal and vaguely semiautobiographical film. Last Film Show has been beautifully shot by Swapnil S Sonawane (who previously worked with Nalin on the controversial Angry Indian Godesses.