wiki:Shatranj Ke Khiladi

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Shatranj Ke Khiladi

aka The Chess Players 1977 129’(124’) col Urdu d/sc/m Satyajit Ray p Suresh Jindal pc Devki Chitra st Premchand c Soumendu Roy lp Sanjeev Kumar, Saeed Jaffrey, Amjad Khan, Richard Attenborough, Shabana Azmi, Farida Jalal, Veena, David Abraham, Victor Bannerjee, Farouque Sheikh, Tom Alter, Lila Mishra, Barry John, Samarth Narain, Bhudo Advani

Ray’s so-called Hindi debut (in fact, it is in Urdu with some English dialogue) is set in 1856 at the court of Wajid Ali Shah in Lucknow, the capital of Oudh. It features two parallel narratives: the first, based on Premchand’s short story, shows the interminable games of chess played by two hookah-smoking zamindars, Mir Roshan Ali (Jaffrey) and Mirza Sajjad Ali (S. Kumar); the other dramatises the conflict between Wajid Ali Shah (A. Khan) and General James Outram (Attenborough) who represents Lord Dalhousie’s treacherously implemented annexation policies. Wajid Ali, shown as a politically weak and effete figure who stimulated the revival of the Kathak classical dance and the musical Raas-leela (cf. Indrasabha, 1932), in the end surrenders to the British without a fight. The colourful period drama about colonialism and indigenous culture begins with an animated cartoon (with Amitabh Bachchan’s voice) about the British annexation policy, and ends with the apolitical duo playing chess in the wilderness - since they can get no peace at home - fighting with each other while the British army marches into their capital. Although he cast major Hindi stars, Ray’s film was refused a normal commercial release by local distributors because of the director’s Calcutta art-house reputation.