14 NOVEMBER 2022 • MW
The filmmaker, whose recent release Chhello Show is India’s official entry to the 95th Academy Awards, talks about cinema becoming content, the future of movie theatres, and his game plan for the Oscars
How Nalin Kumar Pandya, who grew up in a remote village of Gujarat, became internationally-acclaimed filmmaker Pan Nalin is a story for another day. Or, as the man himself puts it, “that’s a long, long story; maybe I will need about a dozen more Last Film Shows to tell it.”
Today, it is about the present, which seems every bit perfect, and the future. His recent release, Last Film Show (Chhello Show) is India’s contender at the 95th Oscars in the international feature category. But this future is built on his rather intriguing backstory. Although set against the backdrop of movie theatres transitioning from celluloid to digital and the shutting down of thousands of single- screen cinemas across India, Last Film Show is, in fact, part autobiographical. “In my heart, I always knew Last Film Show is my story,” he confirms, as he sits down for an interview, taking some time out amid his whirlwind international screenings schedule.
You have been a regular at various international film festivals and your movies have been picking up awards consistently. But what is your game plan for the Oscars for The Last Show?
The nomination from the FFI (Film Federation of India) is just the beginning. The game plan is to try and find as many screenings as we can and show it to the maximum number of Academy members and make it to the shortlist. We are focusing on Los Angeles, London, and Paris. We are confident about what we have made, and we are sure they will like what they would see on screen. We don’t need to hype it up.
It is only fair that a film about cinema would pay homage to cinema. But how does it feel to even respond to Cinema Paradiso comparisons? Did you expect this?
In my heart, I always knew Last Film Show is my story, and totally different from Cinema Paradiso (which I absolutely love). Being the biggest film buff in the universe, how can I hold myself back from paying a tribute to some of the filmmakers who have a deep impact on my life, and my work?
So, it’s subtle, and integrated into the cinematic treatment of my film. If you’re not a cinephile you might not notice anything at all. But that was the idea; I did not want people to easily notice the homages.
You have made this film in Gujarati, which helps in creating a more authentic experience. Do you think language barriers in cinema are slowly dissolving, especially with people embracing subtitled films on the OTTs?
Yes, definitely. One of the very few good things that have come out of the pandemic is that audiences across the globe are now open to subtitles in cinema. At Tribeca last year, the festival director told us that it was the first time that the regular American audiences are not complaining about the subtitles (laughs).
It is not that any regional industry suddenly got better during the pandemic. There was always great cinema being made in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala etc., but people were not exposed to it. During the pandemic, with the OTT platforms, people started discovering these movies and industries like never before. I have never believed in tags such as indie cinema, arthouse cinema, world cinema, studio films, festival films, etc. I don’t even agree with the idea of categorising myself as an indie filmmaker. In its essence, cinema is a commercial venture, as much as it is an art form. I have always believed that all should reach the audience. I want an Angry Indian Goddesses or a Samsara or The Last Film Show to be released at the same multiplex or platform that is showing James Bond, Star Wars, and Mission Impossible. People should have the option to choose between a Samsara and a Bond movie. This is finally happening, and it is a great time for filmmakers.
What is your take on regional-language cinema and Bollywood merging into Indian cinema in the future?
Since Samsara days, I have very humbly rejected these ideas of Bollywood, Hollywood, Tollywood etc. It is cinema and it is Indian cinema, be it in any language. How do you define a film as a Gujarati one? Yes, the language of The Last Film Show is Gujarati, but my crew is from all across India — my cinematographers are from Maharashtra, my chief assistant directors are from Himachal, my sound recordist is from Kerala, one of my actresses is from Rajasthan, and so on. And it is not that I picked this team to make it an ‘inclusive’ crew. I just picked the right talent for my film. How can you then confine it to just being a Gujarati film? This is the real face of Indian cinema. I think it is high time that we call our cinema, Indian Cinema, and nothing else.
As someone who was charmed by watching cinema on the big screen, how does it feel now that cinema is mostly viewed on mobile screens instead of movie theatres? What is the future of cinema?
The way we consume cinema has changed worldwide over the years, especially during the pandemic. Right now, the industry is still reeling from the impacts of the pandemic and trying to find its footing. The discussion about the cinema of the future and the future of cinema is still going on, and the answers are yet to be found. There are also boundaries blurring between cinema and video games and web shows. It is going to be an interesting time, and we have to see how much of ‘cinema’ will prevail.
Your movie is an ode to celluloid films. And as a filmmaker in love with that format, how does it feel to work with the digital format?
There is always that ache when something new takes over. But then, I have always embraced change. When I wanted to make movies as a student, it was really an expensive affair to shoot a 3-minute film on a 16mm camera. Even if I get the money to shoot it, I couldn’t afford to process it. Even if I managed that bit, I wouldn’t have had money to put sound to it. Films were hugely expensive. Digital has given the freedom from that. Now, all you need is a mobile phone and a laptop to make a movie. Filmmaking has become much more liberal and democratic. That was unthinkable even 15 years back. But just as when pens and pencils were invented, not everyone who owned one became a writer, similarly, owning a mobile phone that can shoot videos will not make everyone a filmmaker.
In your movie, a large part of the charm of cinema is about the lavishly-mounted larger-than-life cinema. With the OTTs, is cinema also losing its aspirational side?
Streaming platforms (and the pandemic) have forever changed the way we consume stories. With the streaming platforms, cinema has been reduced to ‘content’, and when something is content, before you realise, it becomes a product of consumption. Each such product needs a great distribution system. From there on, it is all downhill.
Samsara was a 100-crore film in the international market. Yet, it never got a mainstream release in India. Over time, has releasing such films here become easier?
Samsara was my first feature, that too in Ladakhi-Tibetan dialect, but I was blown away by its global success. By the time its theatrical release crossed the 100-crore box office, the movie was everywhere except India. Some 20 years later, the situation is the same, it is extremely tough to do a theatrical release in India. Also, it is one of the most expensive countries to release a film. The biggest problem in India is distribution and exhibition.
Images: Pan Nalin, Fandango, Jungle Book Entertainment