The Last Film Show is a journey of life
Pan Nalin’s The Last Film Show is an uplifting, life-affirming movie, that narrates a short period in the lead character Samay’s life leading up to a turning point. Samay (Bhavin Rabari) is an elementary school student, the elder of two kids to a couple in the tiny village of Chalala in Gujarat. Aside from going to school, Samay helps his Dad sell tea at the train station and spends countless hours walking alongside the track. The train and the track aren’t empty elements that form the background of the film; they are important metaphors that hold a strong connection with Samay and his journey in life, finding context later in the narrative.
An inevitable similarity with the Italian classic
The movie and its central premise bear a striking resemblance to the Italian movie Cinema Paradiso. Samay develops a strong liking for the movies akin to Salvatore in Cinema Paradiso. He frequents a cinema hall and spends hours in the projector room, befriending the avuncular Fazal (Bhavesh Shrimali), a character similar to Alfredo from that 1988 classic. Despite these similarities, The Last Film Show holds its own. With a storyline spreading over decades, Cinema Paradiso had a certain kind of “epicness” written all over. With its rustic rural setting frozen in time, The Last Film Show is happy to stay in the present. If Cinema Paradiso were like a stylish, giant hoarding you could stand and admire all day, The Last Film Show is like a personal photo album you like to hold close to your heart.
The Last Film Show is as much about the love of cinema as it is about the joys of growing up; it is about the innocence of childhood when stealing money doesn’t seem like an offense; it is about the thrill of running silly experiments on a railway track; it is about the languidness of life in villages, where there isn’t much in the form of convenience, but plenty of time for work and home and everything in between (there is so much that happens every day in Samay’s life). If someone were to take the cinema setting away and plant the movie elsewhere, The Last Film Show would have been just as effective.
The physics of cinema
I loved the use of sound and music throughout the movie. Director Pan Nalin fills the film with several moments of silence, especially those that involve the children conducting brave experiments, like trying to replicate the magic of cinema in a moving train. And there is the scene where the children “create” the sounds for a handmade cinema projection that is not just beautiful, but touching and heartwarming. While other films with the subject of cinema tend to focus on the superficial aspects of stardom, it is heartening to see The Last Film Show appreciate the physics behind it.
Mature filmmaking and fine casting
Set in a village with characters that are mostly have-nots, the movie does not sound preachy on any social issues, nor does it judge. For instance, there is a history to the father’s financial situation and his being a tea-seller, but that is only mentioned in passing. The winds of change sweep the movie theater where Samay watches movies, and also the station where his father makes a living. But these are conveyed as a universal fact of life. Despite all their struggles, there is barely a character that sheds a tear.
Das is perfectly cast as Samay’s father. He is shockingly brilliant in the scene where he whips Samay for a crime, and is equally good as the loving Dad pushing his son to take a life-altering decision in the end. Richa Meena is fantastic as Samay’s mother; she doesn’t talk as much, but emotes beautifully, especially in the scenes where she cooks Samay’s meals. But the star of the movie is undoubtedly Bhavin Rabari, playing the role of Samay. Appearing in almost every frame in the movie, Rabari shines throughout the movie, carrying it on his tender shoulders from start to finish.
A fine piece of cinema
Never appearing pretentious, The Last Film Show is a fine piece of cinema. The mother cooking and packing her son’s meals with love reminds of Amole Gupte’s Stanley Ka Dabba; Samay and his friends’ adventures in the setting of Chalala remind of R. K. Narayan’s Malgudi Days. The Last Film Show is a reminder of how the legacy of cinema lives on – whether in the memories it evokes, or the recycled materials we never imagined. It has a soul, one that cannot be crushed.