If you ask a cinephile what their first movie or theatrical experience was like, the vast majority will mention either a long-forgotten film or one with a more commercial bent. Being at the forefront of cinematic evolution isn’t the overarching point. Chances are that they fell in love with cinema because of its tangible concept – moving pictures captured through light and projected on the screen—and their ability to impart stories. If technically disassembled, cinema is a fascinating concept. From a broader perspective, say from the perspective of a kid dazzled by how moviemaking or a project works, it is almost akin to a magic trick. The trick to Pan Nalin’s film “Last Film Show” is how he recounts the story of the birth of the love of cinema in a boy from the microcosm to the macrocosm of filmmaking.
Samay’s (Bhavin Rabari’s) love story with the movies begins when he goes to the city to watch “a religious movie” because that would be the only movie his father would allow the whole family to watch. In the darkened movie theater, the kaleidoscopic lights projected onto the screen caught his attention. Curiosity plants its ever-growing seed as he explores the effect of light through the multicolored glasses he finds beside the railway tracks. It’s a curiosity that manages to instill in him a propensity to skip school and go to the movie theater. However, he is immediately found out and kicked out of the theater. Lady luck shines on him when he makes a deal with the projectionist at the theater. The projectionist would be gifted with the allure of tasting Samay’s tiffin, while Samay would be granted the privilege of watching and inevitably learning the art of projecting a film reel through the projectionist’s booth. Thus begins Samay’s journey and his increasing love for the medium of cinema. He develops a deeper understanding of the methodology of transmuting a group of still images and maintaining the illusion of motion through the reflection of light and rolling of reels, including how light is responsible for storytelling. This also enhances Samay’s knack for delivering stories, either through projecting the designs of matchbooks through a piece of cloth designed as a screen or by stealing the trunks of reels coming via train through Chhala station, his home. It’s a fascinating but also sentimental and saccharine tale of the grandeur of movies and storytelling. Still, it never devolves into a sweetening farce because of Nalin’s devotion to spending time developing the milieu.
If we look at the perspective of how Nalin chooses to execute his storytelling, there are two layers to it. On the one hand, it’s an almost autobiographical tale of his own burgeoning love story with cinema. On the other hand, he is telling a love story about cinema while choosing to utilize different facets of filmmaking to effectively impart his points about his love for it. Look no further than how he captures Samay’s perspective of looking through a green glass bottle and opening up the perspective of the landscape in a whole new skewed light or how he captures Samay’s mother’s cooking—the precision, the love, and the dedication of it. The sentimentality is obvious, and it could even be interpreted as a defining flaw, forcing the story to go through conveniences in the hopes of a somewhat happy ending, but Nalin’s storytelling choices help Last Film Show transcend its traditional beats. The film’s last act acknowledges, with almost brutal and horrifying visuals of the destruction of film reels and projection, the advent of modernity in storytelling through film. The firing of the projectionist and then Samay seeing a digital projector and server farm installed in the room, with bright and spartan lighting, hammers home the effects of change. It’s the coming of age through harrowing realizations coming full circle while subtextually commenting on the death of single-screen theaters. It is an ode to the pillars of the past of filmmaking and film projection that is slowly being left behind and transmuted into far more benign but no less colorful objects. It does have its flaws; for example, caste and class politics aren’t addressed but merely touched upon. The preference for English as a language as less of a form of effective communication and more of a cultural standing is briefly mentioned, despite Nalin’s predisposition to keep the story grounded. The balance between fable and reality is skewed more towards the fable aspect of the story, but the heartwarming nature of it doesn’t break the film.
The play of light and the visual juxtaposition of movies with food impart the overarching feelings of happiness and comfort with the detailing of the projection booth, the cutting and splicing of the reels, and the makeshift foley work by the children as a form of the innocent vanguard of change against “silent films.” Last Film Show is anything if not sincere and honest in its love letter to movies. The final shot of the bangles is accompanied by Samay reciting the actors and directors he grew up with (Manmohan Desai, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajnikanth), and it transitions to Nalin’s voiceover reciting the greats of filmmaking (Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, David Lean, etc.). The supporting cast needed more fleshing out, but Nalin’s choice to completely hone in on the perspective of Samay gives this movie a coherent vision and tonality, ensuring that the cultural timelessness of the story remains intact.