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The Chess Players (1977)

Shatranj Ke Khilari (original title)
Not Rated | | Comedy, Drama, History | 3 October 1977 (India)
Wazed Ali Shah is the ruler of one of the last independent kingdoms of India. The British, intent on controlling this rich country, have sent general Outram on a secret mission to clear the... See full summary »

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(story) (as Premchand), (dialogue) | 3 more credits »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Mirza Sajjad Ali
...
Mir Roshan Ali
...
Khurshid, Mirza's wife
Farida Jalal ...
Nafisa, Mir's wife
Veena ...
Queen Mother
David Abraham ...
Munshi
...
Prime Minister (as Victor Bannerji)
Farooq Shaikh ...
Aqueel (as Farooque Shaikh)
Tom Alter ...
Capt. Weston (Outram's aide de camp)
Leela Mishra ...
Hirya, Khurshid's maid
Barry John
Samarth Narain ...
Kallu
Bhudo Advani ...
Abbajani (as Budho Advani)
Kamu Mukherjee ...
(as Kamu Mukherji)
Uttamram Nagar
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Storyline

Wazed Ali Shah is the ruler of one of the last independent kingdoms of India. The British, intent on controlling this rich country, have sent general Outram on a secret mission to clear the way for an annexation. While pressure is mounting amidst intrigue and political manoeuvres, Ali Shah composes poems and listens to music, secluded in his palace. The court is of no help, as exemplified by nobles Mir and Mirza, who, ignoring the situation of their country and all their duties towards their families, spend their days playing endless parties of chess. Written by Eduardo Casais <eduardo.casais@research.nokia.com>

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Genres:

Comedy | Drama | History

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »
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Release Date:

3 October 1977 (India)  »

Also Known As:

O Jogador de Xadrez  »

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(Eastmancolor)
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User Reviews

 
A delightful comedy
5 June 2006 | by (Vancouver, B.C.) – See all my reviews

Two aristocrats oblivious to what is going on around them play chess around the clock while the British plan a takeover of a northeastern Indian kingdom. These threads are interwoven seamlessly in Satyajit Ray's delightful comedy, The Chess Players, recently released on a Kino DVD. The film does not spare either side from the thrust of its gentle dagger, depicting both the apathy of the Indian upper classes and the arrogance of the colonial masters. Like many Satyajit Ray films, there are gorgeous dance sequences and appealing musical numbers, but unlike most, the spoken language is Urdu not Bengali, and it is a big budget film in Technicolor using name actors.

Based on a short story by Prem Chand, the film is set in Lucknow, India in 1856 and is narrated by the real Amitabh Bachchan. As the film opens, we learn that Oudh's King Wajid Ali Shah (Amjad Khan) has financed the British East India Company for ten years and also provided soldiers for its army. In exchange, the Company did not interfere with Wajid's rule, even though they viewed the king with disdain. This changed in 1856 when General Outram (Richard Attenborough) was instructed to depose the king and take over the kingdom to add to the British coffers. Outram, the local representative of the Company, justifies his ambitions for more territory by denouncing the king to an aide as an incompetent ruler and hedonist, ignoring his devotion to dance, poetry, and music.

In another thread, two Indian aristocrats Mirza (Sanjeev Kumar) and Meer (Saeed Jaffrey) play chess obsessively to the dismay of their wives, Khurshid (Shabana Azmi), and Nafisa (Fardia Jalal). Mirza's wife feeling neglected, steals and hides the chess pieces, while Meer's wife has an affair with his nephew (Farooq Shaikh). Unwilling to handle their domestic affairs, the two first use fruits and vegetables as their set pieces, then seek other places to play their game, refusing to believe that the British takeover is imminent. One of their stops is the home of their attorney who is on his deathbed. This doesn't stop the two from hilariously trying to sneak in a game of chess in another room.

The two players cling to their way of life, exchanging frivolous banter and smoking hookah pipes while the world around them crumbles. They finally take refuge in the home of a young boy, Kullu (Samarth Narain) who remained while others fled just to see the red-coated British soldiers march into the city. While perhaps not in the upper echelon of Ray's work, The Chess Players is a very entertaining political satire that provides wry insight into human nature and our capacity for denial. General Outram is portrayed as a well-meaning but totally condescending individual who utterly fails to understand the lives and culture of the people he seeks to control. Any resemblance to current U.S. Muddle-East policies, of course, is purely accidental.


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