by Geoffrey Churchman

A slice of rural Indian life with child stars gets presented in this ‘magic of cinema’ themed movie from the World’s most populous country.

The time period seems to be 2010 as that date gets mentioned (in the subtitles, the whole dialog is in Gujarati not English).

Samay is a 9-year old schoolboy who does attend the nearby school, but is more interested in light, both direct and reflected and colours when shone through glass and later, celluloid. In the small village his father is a concessionaire at the railway station selling chai to passengers on the trains that stop there. Samay helps out with delivery to passengers and collecting the cash.

A trip to the Galaxy cinema in the nearby town adds a new interest to his life and he starts playing truant from school to watch more movies, to the ire of his father. The cinema manager isn’t interested in non-paying customers and tells him to Stuff off, but Samay befriends the projectionist outside while eating the lunch the mother has given him. His mother is as good a cook as she is good looking and the projectionist makes a deal — more shares of the packed lunches in return for letting Samay watch the movies in the projection box.

Samay learns about splicing film edits and soon he starts stealing lengths of the films containing the sexy bits to view with his friends, initially by holding them up to the light and later with a makeshift projector. Patrons of the cinema notice the omissions and demand refunds. The projectionist gets blamed in turn. When film cannisters get stored at the station, soon Samay and his friends are stealing quite a bit and the police start investigating. Samay gets a short stay in a juvenile centre, and a sore bottom from his father.

Two other developments are firstly, the pending conversion of the narrow (metre?) gauge branch line to the normal Indian broad gauge, along with electrification and faster trains which won’t stop at that station. What will his father do? The other is the conversion of the cinema from celluloid to digital projection — the projectionist doesn’t know English to operate the new equipment so gets let go. What will he do? (Knowledge of English is quite important in India and the teacher makes that clear to Samay.) The Last Film Show is literally that in the town’s cinema, but the movies continue as big screen digital projections. (In NZ the changeover occured about the mid-2000s.)

When the celluloid projection equipment — and all the celluloid — is taken away to the city of Rajkot, the friends follow the truck and see the equipment being melted down to make new steel products and the celluloid melted and turned into bangles.

That is the storyline in a nutshell and it’s one that works simply but effectively: the lead character is intriguing and the friends aren’t brats. Samay may be a budding Steven Spielberg; we don’t get to find out, only that at the end he heads off to a school that specialises in creative pursuits. The lives of the adults are easy to empathise with. The projectionist seems to be Sufi Muslim, but religion features little. There’s not quite enough railway action for it to be an Indian version of The Railway Children. but it is a significant component.

Being India there is a fair amount of delapidation and privation on show, which adds to the interest for an armchair traveler. It’s easy to appreciate the popularity of vibrant and gaudy Bollywood productions, of which there are glimpses in this movie.

Last Film Show was released overseas last year and was shortlisted by the US Academy for the nominations as Best International Feature Film for the 95th Oscars held this year; the first Indian movie in 21 years to make it to the shortlist at the Oscars. Recommended.

Last Film Show (110 minutes) is screening at the Shoreline.