Movie Review – Shatranj Ke Khilari

Posted: June 16, 2013 in Movie Reviews
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This movie by Satyajit Ray was made during his later years when he had become a known figure so the visual naivetés present in his earlier films were not to be seen in this film. But here he takes a game which is often considered as purely intelligent one and tells what happens due to its addiction.


The story is set during East India Company regime. It unfolds with two kings playing chess. That’s what they do in the whole film. Play chess and worry about nothing else. Ray tries to show them as kings who are letting themselves to be plundered by East India Company as they worry about nothing. The British general even ridicules them during an instant about their code of conduct. He says, “what type of rulers fly kites from their terrace.’

Though the general is obsessed by the power he couldn’t help but appreciate the talents of nawab. During the above mentioned conversation he asks what type of poetry does the Nawab write. The captain tells the poetry in Urdu and translates in English which leaves the General in awe. He takes some time to regain his composure, a scene beautifully done by Richard Attenborough.

The whole movie is divided into two parts like the white and black (red, in this movie) in Chess. Eg. English East India Company and India, Two ‘nobleman’s’ playing chess, two parallel stories of nawabs and nobleman, two different types of women in families, the nobleman’s relationship with their wives. Every relationship mentioned above is strained. It’s a stalemate which no one resolves to solve.

The most beautiful thing done by Satyajit Ray in this movie is parody. The two nobleman’s deeds. A superb looking ShabanaAzmi calls out for her husband through her maid. The husband avoids it till the last moment but the maid insists again and again on Shabana’s call which makes the nobleman finally get rid of the game and go meet her. Two Satyajit Ray masterstrokes happen here. Just before this scene one of the two noblemen would have talked to other about touch piece. He’s the one who’s called by Shabana. Now that if he goes the other person could touch and play every coin and see what happens so the other one asks him to go. Another masterstroke is the old servant’s mannerism. The older people in Ray’s movies are charmers in any situation. Be it the grandma who makes her granddaughter steal in PatherPanchali or the maid here.

What follows is one of the most romantic scenes in Ray’s movies. But sadly due to censor and the nobleman’s interest in game the romance doesn’t continue for long. We along with Shabana are frustrated. There is similar incident with the other nobleman in their house. As they knew Shabana would be hindrance to their game they decide to go to their house. Their too a comic scene unfolds. The nobleman lets his wife wantedly with the other person for chess or he didn’t really know about her lover is left to us to decode.

Satyajit Ray’s music plays a great effect especially in the scene where they both go to lawyer’s house. To their astonishment they see chess board there too but to maintain dignity they play it with disdain. They even leave their drinks unattended to play chess. The most funny scene is when the lawyer is dead they give a longing look at the board and leave haughtily.

Deciding they couldn’t play in both their house they decide to play elsewhere only to be found no building existing in the spot they have chosen. Luckily they spot a kid and play there which ends with a gun fight. But even after gun fight it doesn’t take much time for them to console and start playing.

As someone who loves Amitabh’s voice I didn’t like much of the voice over in this film. Most part of the first half had voice over by Amitabh. A matured Lagaanish voice would have been apt but Ray who was so impressed with Amitabh who couldn’t give him any role to play gave him the voice over task. Amjad Khan as NawabWajad Ali Shah also does a good subtle performance.

This is one of the best addiction movies ever made which gives in depth analysis along with the East India Companys seizure of Awadh.


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