Once Upon a Star: Is the Netflix Film Inspired From Real-Life?

Netflix’s ‘Once Upon a Star’ is a Thai film that follows the journey of a traveling pharma-cinema unit in the 1960s who embark on a road trip to bring live-dubbed movies to villages and small towns across Thailand. While the crew provides live-dubbing of the soundtrack to the audience, they also sell medical products in between breaks to fulfill their other role as salespersons.

The drama film, directed by Nonzee Nimibutr, traces the ups and downs of the dubbing company. Sukollawat Kanarot, Nuengthida Sophon, Jirayu La-ongmanee, and Samart Payakaroon star in the movie and draw the audience’s attention with their compelling performances. Considering the period setting of the film and the realistic events presented, our readers might be wondering if the film is based on a true story.

Once Upon a Star is a Fictional Story

‘Once Upon a Star’ is not based on a true story. Yet, the film draws inspiration from many real-world events. Live dubbing was an actual profession that was prominent in Thailand during the 1960s and ‘70s and is considered a symbol of the golden era of Thai cinema. As modern dubbing techniques were not popular at the time, the performers used to translate the dialogues using microphones during the screening of the film in front of the audience. In some cases, the producers used to make films without any sound and relied on dubbers to read dialogues from a script in real time during each screening.

Director Nimibutr and writer Ek Iemchuen drew inspiration from the real-life live dubbing crews of the time and adapted their experiences into a fictional story. Nimibutr stated that the project is his tribute to the Thai film industry. In his official statement to Netflix, the filmmaker said, “This movie is inspired by interviews with dubbers who worked during that era. The more I heard about their joyful and memorable experiences, the more I wanted to portray these stories in a film as a tribute to the Thai film industry.”

Additionally, the live-dubbing artists also used to deliver essential medicines to the people of remote villages, which were not available at the local drugstores. The medical companies used to sponsor the screening of the movies, as seen in the film. Payakaroon, who essays the role of Uncle Man, explained the work of the real pharma-cinema units in a statement and said. “Ordinary drugstores didn’t carry some of the medications available at that time, so these pharma-cinema units were promoting both the films and the essential medicines, making them more accessible to the public.”

The film also pays tribute to a real-life superstar. Mitr Chaibancha, who is counted among the legendary actors of Thai cinema, was at the peak of his career during the 1960s. In the film, the members of the troupe are die-hard fans of Chaibancha and have a picture of him pasted in their truck. A fictionalized version of the actor also appears in the film. During his career, Chaibancha starred in hit films like ‘Operation Bangkok,’ ‘Top Secret,’ and ‘Magical Love of the Countryside.’ The actor tragically died in 1970 by falling from a helicopter while filming a stunt for his movie ‘Golden Eagle.’ ‘Once Upon a Star’ also features a funeral scene of the superstar, and his demise has a huge impact on the lives of the troupe members.

Kanarot, who portrays Manit in the film, talked about Chaibancha’s impact on him as an actor and said, “Even though I wasn’t around during his era, I have always heard people talk about him since I started working in the film industry. I am impressed by his life’s work and on-screen performances. While filming the movie, it felt like I was meeting him every day as I had to dub his voice. I felt a genuine connection to him through my character. There was one scene where I met him face to face. That was the proudest moment of this character.” Hence, while ‘Once Upon a Star’ is based on a fictional story, it draws inspiration from real-world events and personalities of Thai cinema.

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