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Chess Players, The

Shatranj ke Khilari

This late masterpiece by the great Indian director Satyajit Ray is set in the state of Oudh in 1857, during the last days of the Mogul Empire. The impoverished East India Company is preparing, with Britannia’s blessing, to take over the richest province in India. The annexation is already a fait accompli to which the Nawab’s consent is required merely as a matter of form. The polemic is dispatched in an opening sequence using cartoons, caricatures, political squibs and animation to sketch in a partisan but wholly accurate history of England’s greedy colonisation of India. The entertainment is catered for, delightfully, by the follies of two noble chess players (Saeed Jaffrey and Sanjeev Kumar) so obsessed by the game that they forget everything – even the fates of their marriages and their country – to pursue their continuing duel on the chessboard.

India, 1977.
English subtitles.
Colour.
124 mins.

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