India’s official Oscar entry, Chhello Show revolves around nine-year-old Samay, enchanted by cinema and filmmaking.
‘Chello Show’ is not only an ode to cinema, but also to the zeal of filmmakers, to directing and to the cinematic medium. India’s official entry into the Oscars, Chello Show Where Last movie session revolves around the nine-year-old child Samay (Bhavin Rabari), the son of a tea seller in the remote Chalala in Saurashtra, Gujarat. Samay is enchanted by the cinema when his father takes him for his ‘pehlo ne chello‘ (first and last) broadcast. As the cinematic world draws him in, the world around him fades. Thus begins the journey of cinema, love, dreams and hope of little Samay.
The film is supposed to be the autobiography of the distinguished filmmaker Pan Naline whose love for movies and filmmakers can be spotted through the film, making it a delight for moviegoers. For example, the film begins with Samay in a field near the train tracks reminding us Ray Satyajitit is ‘Father Panchali’. There are also apparent similarities between “Hugo” and “Cinema Paradiso”. The children inside the prison reminded me Francois Truffautit is ‘400 Blows’.
Is the film reserved for cinephiles? No. The story, though simple, can touch and crush hearts. If it takes a long time to build, his second half is accelerating impressively. The film repeatedly takes you away from the plot in fascinating ways, into Samay’s soul, and gently back to you. The film is also a visually poetic tribute to Gujarat. The scenes with Gujarati food, which plays a character in its own right, sweep you away and gently bring you back to the story. Although its repetition may become uncomfortable for some, it is a vital and aesthetic part of the narrative.
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Chello Show struggles with conflicts though. They seem unevenly placed and don’t hit you as hard. Only towards the end does conflict and chaos ensue, emotionally shaking. A Nalin classic, the colors blend hypnotically, the light draws you in, and the sound brings out the pain in the characters. It’s fascinating how the scenes are painful in essence, yet visually pleasing and even serene. Rabari is impressively authentic as Samay, holding your hand and taking you through his eventful journey with him. Bhavesh Shrimali as a projectionist Fazal makes a fun but meaningful pair with Samay despite the age gap. However, Samay’s mother (Richa Mena) only cooks and dresses. Although the kitchen is essential to the narrative, a little more depth in her character could have added to the story.
Chello Show explores rural India and shows how different it is from how urban India perceives it. The Chalala of Nalin is a typical village where poverty exists peacefully, the Brahmans prohibit the profession of “sordid” filmmaker, and the lions are free, but the humans are in cages. Yet his Chalala is atypical. Here the Muslim is caricatured in looks or manners, children establish an independent world refusing adult governance, and their anger is treated as valid. The huge nostalgic reality check is that single-screen rooms are no more. The reels and cinematographs romanticized by cinephiles can no longer be found except in archives.
As multiplexes invade single screens making cinema inaccessible to the poor, the film rightly asks that if modernity is meaningful and inevitable, at what cost? Who is modernity for? Where do dreams end and reality begin? Do they always have to be different and often the opposite? Why are they different? Why? Will the gap between reality and dreams ever be bridged? What does it take to close the gap? Is it worth it? The answers may be complex or apparent, but denial reigns. Maybe there are no answers. Yet the questions are crucial.
Unfortunately, Chello Show is today considered by many in relation to ‘RRR’ due to the Oscars controversy. However, the film deserves to be celebrated for what it is. He might or might not win the Oscar. However, I believe that in the commercial world of film, where business and marketing often overshadow the art, this film deserves the exposure it has earned. May Chello show inspire many more filmmakers and more samays.
Chello Show released in theaters on October 14, 2022.
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