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Putting all speculation to rest and beating high-profile Hindi and southern language titles, small-budget Gujarati drama Chhello Show was selected as India’s official entry to the Academy Awards for the international film category on Tuesday. The Pan Nalin directed film starring Bhavin Rabari, Bhavesh Shrimali, Richa Meena, Dipen Raval and Paresh Mehta in lead roles, is yet to be released in movie theatres and a big screen launch is scheduled for late 2022. It beat SS Rajamouli’s period drama RRR and political drama The Kashmir Files, both touted to be in the race, for the recognition.

Chhello Show, that revolves around a young boy in a small village in Gujarat, who bribes a cinema projectionist to watch films in his theatre, had premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2021. The film follows Tamil drama Koozhangal and Malayalam thriller Jallikattu that have been selected to represent India at the Oscars over the past two years, though neither made it to the final nominations. Zoya Akhtar’s musical drama Gully Boy was the selected entry the year before that. Chhello Show is the second Gujarati film in the past 10 years after Gyan Correa’s The Good Road in 2013 to be selected for the honour. 

However, only three Indian films have ever made it to the final list of Oscar nominations—Mother India (1957), Salaam Bombay! (1988) and Lagaan (2001). The 95th Academy Awards will be held on March 12, 2023 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

Nalin is an award-winning filmmaker known for several critically acclaimed titles. In 2006, his Hindi and Japanese language feature, Valley of Flowers had won the award for best picture at Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, while another film Faith Connections was an official selection at the Toronto Film Festival in 2013 and had won the Audience Choice Award at Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles in 2014. Nalin is known to Hindi-speaking audiences for his feminist tale Angry Indian Goddesses that had won the Audience Choice Award First-Runner-up at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and the Audience Award at the Rome Film Festival, besides being nominated for All Lights India International Film Festival in 2016.

The award for best international film feature is given annually by the United States Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to a feature-length motion picture produced outside the United States that contains primarily non-English dialogue. The final choice of the official selection is made by the Film Federation of India, an apex body of producers, distributors, exhibitors and studio owners. While Chhello Show was an unexpected choice, critics and film buffs were anticipating either SS Rajamouli’s RRR or Vivek Agnihotri’s The Kashmir Files to be submitted as the official entry. The former, a high-budget action extravaganza, tells the tale of two fictional Indian revolutionaries and has already carried out a massive promotional campaign in the US. The latter is centered on the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from the state, having received much backing and appreciation from the political machinery.

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