'Chhello Show' dir on Oscar row: Our cinematic culture star-driven

''What is disturbing is the false allegation which could seriously hamper our chances going forward. People have made comments without watching the film,'' Nalin told PTI.
Poster of 'Chhello Show' and Cinema Paradiso
Poster of 'Chhello Show' and Cinema Paradiso

NEW DELHI: India’s cinema culture is star driven so he can understand the “panic” over his film “Chhello Show” being chosen as India’s official entry for the Oscars, says director Pan Nalin. What he can’t wrap his head around is accusations that it is a copy of “Cinema Paradiso”.

''What is disturbing is the false allegation which could seriously hamper our chances going forward. People have made comments without watching the film,'' Nalin told PTI.

The Gujarati language film is a coming-of-age drama about a young boy’s romance with cinema in a village in Gujarat’s Kathiawar region. The film’s suitability as a contender for best foreign film at the 95th Academy Awards has been called into question by several social media users who were rooting for ''RRR'' or ''The Kashmir Files''.

Besides, Nalin has also been accused by the Indian Film & Television Directors' Association (IFTDA) and the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) of plagiarism -- that ''Chhello Show'' is a copy of the 1988 Oscar-winning Italian-French film ''Cinema Paradiso''.

''It must have been earth-shattering news for people who love certain stars,'' said the director in response to the extreme reaction to the movie's official selection by the Film Federation of India (FFI) last month.

Titled “Last Film Show” in English, the film, starring debutant child actor Bhavin Rabari as Samay, premiered at the 2021 edition of the New York-set Tribeca Film Festival, which counts Hollywood veteran Robert De Niro as one of its founders.

''Our country is passionate about cinema so I don't blame people since many have not seen the film. At that time, they didn't know anything about it. Also, our cinematic culture is driven by stars, so there was panic,” Nalin said.

''If it was a copy why would so many big studios around the world acquire it? Why would Robert De Niro's festival invite us to the red carpet opening?'' he asked.

In June, he was invited by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) to join its director's branch as a member. Besides, big studios such as Shochiku (Japan) and Samuel Goldwyn Films (US) have bought the distribution rights of the film.

With ''Chhello Show'' set to be released in India next Friday by Roy Kapur Films, the director says he wants the movie to speak for itself.

''On October 14, people will know,'' he said.

“Chhello Show” is not just Nalin's love letter to the movies, It also serves as a reminder of analogue projectors amid cinema's rapidly increasing dependence on digital technology.

Born Nalin Kumar Pandya in Adtala village of Gujarat, the director modelled Samay's character on his younger self as a boy. Samay helps his father run a tea stall by a railway platform and spends a summer watching films by bribing the projectionist Fazal (Bhavesh Shrimali).

Nalin, who watched his first film ''Jai Mahakali'' at the age of nine, based Fazal's part on his childhood friend Mohammad.

''Around 2010-11, when I visited my parents, my father asked me to meet Mohammad bhai because he had lost his job. So many single screens were going digital or being destroyed.

''Mohammad bhai also didn't have the necessary skills required for digital projection. We started talking about films, prints, projectors, and 35mm celluloid. That stayed with me,'' said the filmmaker, who spends his time between Mumbai, Goa and Paris.

Known for acclaimed movies ''Samsara'' and ''Angry Indian Goddesses'', the filmmaker said he realised a few years later that ''Chhello Show'' could be a reflection on ''the 10 years of disappearance of celluloid''.

''Movies are going digital. There are too many pixels... manufactured entertainment. I thought it would be nice to go back and talk about the pure magic of cinema,'' he added.

When Nalin shared his thoughts with producer Dheer Momaya of Jugaad Motion Pictures (''Teen Aur Aadha'', ''Namdev Bhau: In Search of Silence''), he was more than willing. Monsoon Films, Chhello Show LLP, and Marc Duale are other producers on the film.

''It was something that spoke to me as a producer. Nalin is a creator who was on my wish list. At Jugaad, we follow stories about hope. This was an incredible story because even more than the back story of a filmmaker or someone who loves cinema, it's the story about human perseverance,'' Momaya said.

As of 2022, India has sent 55 films to the Oscars. ''Chhello Show'' is only the second Gujarati film after ''The Good Road'' (2013) to represent the country.

Keeping Gujarati as the film's language was a conscious decision for Nalin.

''Kathaiwar within Gujarat has such a distinct culture, so it was important to have the film in Gujarati. It was a tough decision because I was told if I do the film in Hindi it would be easy to finance or cast. But I realised that that would probably not work for the story.'' Casting for the protagonist Samay on whose shoulders rests the entire film was also a ''long-drawn process''.

''The first round of auditions were held in Mumbai and Ahmedabad, but we were nowhere near close to finding Samay. Our casting team with Dilip Shankar and three others changed the strategy and started looking deep into Kathiawar. We found Bhavin, a tribal from Kathiawar, after auditioning close to 3,000 child actors. It was like finding little Mowgli in 'The Jungle Book','' the filmmaker said.

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