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Period story about Thai dubbing troupe shines after tepid start

Once Upon a Star2023★★★☆☆3/5Director:Nonzee NimibutrCast:Sukollawat Kanaros, Nuengthida Sophon, Jirayu La-ongmanee, Samart Payakaroon

This Thai period drama reveals itself in the second half. It’s not so much about the fledgling fate of a travelling pharma-cinema troupe. They dub silent films in front of rural audiences in the open and sell ‘fever-breaking’ and ‘stomachia’ medicines to them slyly. Such cinema projectionists were a fixture in the 1960 Thailand, I confirmed on Google.

The film is about dreams and going after them. In one scene, a sea of fans are grieving the loss of actor Mitr Chaibancha, who fell from a helicopter ladder while filming a stunt at 36. Boss and lead dubber of this troupe Manit (Sukollawat) is seen bawling and aching. He idolised Mitr. On a film set, Mitr had once patted Manit and said ‘I look good (on screen) because of your voice’. Mitr’s death fires up Manit to try and save its troupe from folding up.

If you’ve idolised a movie star, this film will speak to you. Mitr Chaibancha was Thailand’s biggest star, known for fighting bad guys and being a doting lover and a trusted friend. Thai cinema which was shot without sound on the cheaper 16mm stock switched to the higher quality 35 mm after his death.

Other dreamers are Kao (Jiirayu), a technician who has big screen ambitions, and Ruangkhae (Nuengthida), who joins the all-male troupe to dub for female parts but is steadfast in her goal of buying a typewriter and becoming a company secretary. She has no time for love and we couldn’t be more glad. The romantic rivalry was just out of place.

You have to endure a tepid first half to get here. I enjoyed road-tripping through jungles and paddy fields, admired the live voice-over, the tu-tu-tu for firing a gun especially. At times, they bypassed the script to vent their bittersweet feelings between film screenings. The magic of outdoor cinema was also there. Yet, the film gets emotionally engaging only later.

(Published 13 October 2023, 23:41 IST)

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