“We were creating havoc abroad, but not many knew about our film in India,” says Nalin Kumar Pandya, who is known in film circles as director Pan Nalin. His Gujarati film Chhello Show (The Last Film Show) has been selected by the Film Federation of India (FFI) as India’s official entry for the 95th Academy Awards in the Best International Feature Film Category, over popular favourites such as RRRand The Kashmir Files.
Chhello Show premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival 2021, won the Golden Spike award at the Valladolid International Film Festival in Spain, and received attention in several other festivals; the film is scheduled to release in India on October 14. During a brief visit to Hyderabad for a screening hosted by actor-producer Lakshmi Manchu, Pan Nalin and one of the film’s producers Dheer Momaya spoke to The Hindu about the film and the Oscar campaign.
The FFI’s selection took Mr. Nalin by surprise. After the international festivals, his attention was on the theatrical release in India. “Our film was censored in December 2021. But several films, including ours, had to push back release plans due to the Omicron wave. Finally Roy Kapur Films, which had picked up the distribution rights, decided to release it on September 14.” Mr. Nalin had begun hosting private screenings in different cities in India to get the film some visibility. Screenings were held in Chennai and Auroville, Puducherry, recently. “The FFI announcement has changed our plans, but in a good way. I was overwhelmed when I learnt that Chhello Show was the unanimous choice of 17 FFI jury members,” says Mr. Nalin.
Chhello Show’s story draws from Mr. Nalin’s childhood and is his love letter to celluloid. The director who is recognised for his films Samsara, Valley of Flowers and Angry Indian Goddesses, says he never imagined that he would make a semi-autobiographical drama.
He grew up in Kathiawar, Gujarat, watching Hindi masala movies. In 2011, when he visited his hometown, his parents asked him to visit Mohammad bhai, a projection operator whom Mr. Nalin had known as a child: “We used to swap lunch boxes and the theatre where he worked is where I got interested in cinema. He was in despair since cinema was going digital and he did not understand new technology. The idea of Chhello Show was born from such anecdotes. About 60 to 70% of the story is from my childhood and the rest of it comes from Dheer’s, who grew up in Kutch. To be specific, Chhello Show is a Kathiawari film.”
Some social media users were quick to conclude that Chhello Show is inspired by Cinema Paradiso. Broach that topic and Mr. Nalin says he was aware of the possible comparisons while making the film. “I have made a film that is rooted in Kathiawar, with some of the actors from the region. Any film about cinema can have parallels to Cinema Paradiso, which is one of my favourite films. Consciously and subconsciously, I have paid homage to Cinema Paradiso and several other films. An ardent cinephile would be able to identify some of the Easter eggs in the narrative.”
Mr. Nalin cites some of the warm reviews he has received abroad, including one which called Chhello Show as a spiritual successor to Cinema Paradiso. “If our film is a copy or inspired by Cinema Paradiso, we would not have found distributors in Italy, Spain, Russia, Europe, the U.S.A. or Japan. Jury members of the FFI are also ardent cinephiles and they would not have selected our film.”
A few months ago, the team screened the film to director Ashutosh Gowarikar, whose Lagaan was the last Indian film to be nominated in the Best International Feature Film category at the Academy Awards. Mr. Nalin recalls how Mr. Gowarikar told them, ‘tuxedo banado (make your tuxedos), you are going to the Oscars’. Mr. Nalin adds, “People have to judge after watching our film.”
The Oscar campaign has just begun to heat up. Mr. Nalin was firm that he would not submit his film to the FFI unless he had an American distributor. “Samuel Goldwyn Films and Orange Studio are our distributors for the U.S. and European market. We are aware that it is tough competition. Where there is a voting cluster of Academy members, we have strong distributors for our film, including Medusa in Italy and Shochiku Studios in Japan.”
The film has also drawn attention at the Mill Valley Film Festival in California, the U.S., where some of the Academy members saw the film. “So far, around 200 Academy members have seen our film. We will be stepping up the campaign with the help of producer Siddharth Roy Kapur and Samuel Goldwyn Films,” state Mr. Nalin and Mr. Dheer.