Yes, Chhello Show is inspired by Italian film Cinema Paradiso (and even Kubrick's 2001) but it is no cheap copy 

Shaurya Thapa
Shaurya ThapaOct 14, 2022 | 16:54

Yes, Chhello Show is inspired by Italian film Cinema Paradiso (and even Kubrick's 2001) but it is no cheap copy 

The central friendship in Cinema Paradiso and the Stargate sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey are directly referenced in Chhello Show (photo-DailyO)

Chhello Show, Pan Nalin’s Gujarati drama and India’s official Oscar entry for this awards season, is finally in Indian theatres. Even though it is gaining positive responses from critics and audiences so far, some are still skeptical about its foreign influences. 

Last month itself, when it was announced that Chhello Show (also marketed as The Last Film Show for the Western market) is India’s pick for the Oscars, a larger uproar on social media followed given that SS Rajamouli’s RRR was the audience’s expected frontrunner. The Gujarati feature was subjected to much judgment even before anyone had watched it with the Twitterati alleging Chhello Show to be a copy or knockoff of the 1988 Italian film Cinema Paradiso.


The trailers and posters itself suggested some obvious visual and thematic references to Giuseppe Tornatore’s timeless classic. But calling it a copy or even a “cheap remake” would border on slight exaggeration. 

The central friendship is an obvious tribute to Cinema Paradiso

Both Cinema Paradiso and its obviously-inspired byproduct Chhello Show are tributes to the art of watching films. Both films centre around young protagonists who garner a life-changing fascination towards moving pictures and end up striking a wholesome friendship with the projectionist in their local theatre. 

In Cinema Paradiso, eight-year-old Salvatore, the son of a war widow, escapes from the bleakness of a post-World War II era by befriending Alfredo, the projector operator at the theatre which shares the same name as the movie. Pan Nalin’s screenplay for Chhello Show directly references this as his nine-year-old protagonist Samay similarly befriends Fazal, the projectionist at Galaxy Talkies, a local single-screen hall near his village in Gujarat. 

And that is perhaps where the similarities and references end. The duo’s everyday adventures and their film-watching experiences take different turns that are suited to the respective story’s geographical and cultural variations. Even though young Salvatore ends up becoming a reputed filmmaker (Cinema Paradiso is told from his flashback perspectives), becoming a director is a distant yet cherished dream of Samay’s. 


Even if Samay doesn’t have the means to make films on his own, he and his ragtag bunch of friends end up collecting scrap material and stealing film reels to have their very own film screenings. Nalin might have had obvious inspirations like any filmmaker, but Chhello Show still brims with its own originality as it progresses. 

The work of Stanley Kubrick is also referenced

Cinema Paradiso isn’t the only classic that is explicitly referenced in Chhello Show. In one of Samay’s movie-watching sojourns, he gets so engrossed in the big screen that his eyes widen and the screen’s colours fall on his face. The background score suddenly transitions to Also sprach Zarathustra by German composer Richard Strauss. 


While classical music aficionados would know of this piece’s existence beforehand, cinephiles were introduced to it ever since Stanley Kubrick extensively used the introductory fanfare in the opening scene of his 1968 sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

As the sun slowly appears from behind the moon, the grandiose orchestral arrangement sets the tone for some majestic phenomenon to commence. 

Similarly, in Chhello Show, the music is effectively used as a surreal segue to show how Samay becomes one with cinema. The iridescent band of colours reflected on his face are also similar to a crucial scene in 2001 when an astronaut is sucked into a vortex of coloured light, travelling across various distances of space. The psychedelic sequence is a visionary example of the practical effects of that time. 


The visual reference to 2001 in Chhello Show would definitely impress diehard Kubrick fans who might also analyse Samay’s eyes. As this scene plays out,  Samay’s eyes are reminiscent of the so-called “Kubrick stare”. 

For Stanley Kubrick, eyes were indeed a gateway to the soul as he captured many of his characters’ psychological derangement through their stares. Be it the alcoholic writer Jack Torrance in The Shining, the suicidal and bullied soldier Private Gomer Pyle in Full Metal Jacket or the milk-sipping anarchist Alex in A Clockwork Orange, all such characters have their moments staring directly into the forwardly-tilted camera. The stare directly connects the character with the audience, revealing their disturbed mental state. 

Stills from Kubrick films featuring characters staring into the camera (photo-IMDb)

In contrast, Samay’s expression of curiosity and naivety offer an interesting antithesis to the dark overtones of the Kubrick stare. 

Bhavin Rabari as Samay. (photo-IMDb)
Bhavin Rabari as Samay. (photo-IMDb)

In fact, Stanley Kubrick also finds a mention at the beginning of the film as the opening credits thank international directors like the Lumiere Brothers, Andrei Tarkovsky, Kubrick and many others for “illuminating the path”. Without giving away any spoilers, the list of filmmakers continues in the end with Satyajit Ray, Manmohan Desai, Jane Campion, Yasujirō Ozu, and many others joining the list. All in all, Chhello Show gives Pan Nalin an opportunity to unabashedly reference, respect, and namedrop his inspirations. 

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Last updated: October 14, 2022 | 16:54
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