Pan Nalin, writer and director of “Last Film Show,” India’s official submission for the Best International Feature Oscar, turned to his own childhood growing in the Adtala village in Saurashtra for inspiration for the semi-autobiographical film.
Centered on 9-year-old Samay (Bhavin Rabari), “Last Film Show” details a summer spent watching films in the projection booth of a rundown movie palace, falling in love with the art of filmmaking and changing the course of his entire life.
Imagine Nalin’s surprise seeing a similar story unfold in another semi-autobiographical awards contender this year, Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans.”
“We went to see the movie with the whole cast and crew and when it started, at least 30 times we looked at each other, like, ‘How is that possible?’” Nalin said during a virtual screening of the film as part of TheWrap’s 2022-2023 Awards Season Screening Series.
Nalin, who appeared alongside producer Dheer Momaya and actor Bhavin Rabari, outlined several similarities between “Last Film Show” and “The Fabelmans” to moderator Steve Pond, from the names of the protagonists (Samay and Sammy), the tight-knit circle of friends each boy had, the supportive mother and disapproving father, even a shared obsession with trains.
“It was just quite amazing how all filmmakers think alike,” Nalin said. “To talk about my own story 25 years ago, when I first saw ‘Cinema Paradiso,’ there were at least three scenes straight out of my life. I said, ‘I live far away in a remote part of India. How can this Italian director know of my friendship with the projectionist?’”
For Momaya’s part, he’d always wanted to know about Nalin’s childhood, even before he’d met the director, having been inspired by his films, which Momaya described as “indigenous, local, but still had a global quality to it.”
“Give me the backstory,” Momaya said upon finally meeting Nalin. “And over a few meetings he did give me his backstory, and that’s essentially you see here. The countryside he grew up in, the relationship he had with his mother and father. There was this deep emotional texture, which I felt very moved by.”
Not everybody shares Nalin’s passion for film, however. According to the director, Rabari, the young star of “Last Film Show” liked playing cricket far more than the cinema. Rabari is from a small village in northwest India and had rarely been to the cinema in his life, according to Nalin, who served as the boy’s interpreter.
But cinema appreciation is definitely having a moment. Beyond “Last Film Show” and “The Fablemans,” Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon” and Sam Mendes’ “Empire of Light” also wax poetic about the magic of film.
“During the COVID-19 situation, people had a lot of time for introspection, thinking, ‘Why am I making movies? What was the reason? When did I fall in love with cinema?’ And somewhere, we all started looking for a story,” Nalin said.
Watch the full interview here or at the top of this file.