After its well received premiere at Tribeca Festival in June last year, Pan Nalin’s love letter to cinema Last Film Show went on to capture the hearts of festivalgoers all over the world. Starring newcomer Bhavin Rabari, it tells the story of Samay, a country boy whose life is changed forever during a trip to see a Bollywood movie with his family. Soon after, Samay befriends the projectionist at the cinema and begins to play truant, causing a rift with his overbearing but well-meaning father.
Speaking during a panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film: International award-season event, Nalin revealed that Samay’s story was close to his own. “The movie is loosely inspired by my own childhood, growing up as a kid in Western India in the state of Gujarat. I was 9 years old when I saw my first film, and I was just blown away. Mesmerized. Hypnotized! A little later, in 2010 or 2011, when most of the movie theaters went digital, I met one of my friend who used to be a projectionist, and we both started talking about our love for cinema and going to the movie theaters.”
Blending his own stories with those of family and friends, he began working on the screenplay and realized that it would soon be 10 years since digital began to replace celluloid. “It’s a coming-of-age story about a child who discovers cinema,” Nalin said, “and how his world is turned upside down. And as his friendship blossoms with the projectionist, both are unaware that here are some terrible times are waiting for them: the digital revolution is gonna take over and wipe out everything celluloid across India.”
Key to the film’s success is the guileless performance from Rabari.
“Finding him was a long process,” Nalin said on the panel that included Rabari as well as producers Dheer Momaya and Siddharth Roy Kapur. “At least twice I abandoned making this movie, because if I didn’t have [the right actor], I couldn’t make the movie. He’s practically in every frame. So we did about 3,000 auditions, but we couldn’t find the actor we wanted. So with my casting director we went into the rural countryside in India and started looking for non-actors, especially in the villages where children very rarely go to see movies. That’s where I hit the jackpot by finding Bhavin, because I had shot only his eyes: I’d asked him to [act] sad, happy, surprised—all kinds of expressions—but only with his eyes. When I came back to our production base and edited the footage there were about 30 shots only of his eyes. Me and my editor, we both had goosebumps.”
Check out the panel video above.
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