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Chess Players (1977)

21 customer reviews

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Product Description

In 1977's The Chess Players, Satyajit Ray India's "extraordinary filmmaker" (George Lucas), turned his celebrated eye for everyday life on his own country's trouble history. Made during Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's era of press censorship and curtailed constitutional rights, The Chess Players dared to examine India's future through its past. n the kingdom of Awadh, rich landowners Meer (Saeed Jaffrey, The Man Who Would Be King) and Mirza (Sanjeev Kumar, Sholay) pour every ounce of passion into a never-ending game of chess. At the same time, an ambitious British General (Sir Richard Attenborough, Jurassic Park) plots his own moves against Awadh's King (Amjad Khan) and Prime Minister (Victor Banerjee, A Passage to India), in the hope of taking the region for his Queen. Heedless of their political and family responsibilities, Mirza and Meer keep playing. But as British soldiers march on their homeland, an innocent game escalates into deadly confrontation and catastrophic loss. Rich, poor, winner or loser, everyone is revealed to be history's pawn. A film of "exquisite performances" (Variety) and epic sweep, the New York Times praised The Chess Players for "the manner in which an entire civilization has been encapsulated in a few particular gestures." Adapted from a short story by Hindi author Munshi Premchand, The Chess Players evenly examines both colonial greed and Indian aristocratic indolence with the same dramatic scrutiny. His first-ever historical drama. The Chess Players is imbued with the same "deep observation, understanding and love of the human race" (Akira Kurosawa) that made Satyaijit Ray one of the preeminent figures of international cinema.

Written, composed, and directed by Indian master Satyajit Ray (Pather Panchali), The Chess Players presents a stylized world in which the landed gentry lounge about, endlessly pulling on hookahs and engaging in the "king of games." Outside their gilded doors, the order that allows them this luxury--let alone their marriages--is crumbling. They couldn't be more oblivious. As the narrator notes, "Mr. Meer and Mr. Mirza are only playing at warfare. Their armies are pieces of ivory. Their battlefield: a piece of cloth." Set in 1856 Lucknow, the noblemen (Saeed Jaffrey and Sanjeev Kumar) are situated in one of the few Indian territories not ruled by Britain's East India Company. The British, meanwhile, are also playing a game of chess, and equally oblivious Oudh ruler Nawab Wajid Ali Shah (Amjad Khan) is the king they intend to capture. Forthright General Outram (Sir Richard Attenborough, Ghandi), assisted by the more culturally erudite Captain Weston (Tom Alter), is the man charged with the task. It shouldn’t be difficult: Like Meer and Mirza, Wajid would prefer to relax--to write poetry, to fly kites--rather than to rule. Along the way, Oudh will fall, but the chess will continue. Based on a story by Munshi Premchand, The Chess Players was Ray’s most elaborate production. It was also his first in Hindi (with English) and its frames are filled with music, dance, opulent pageantry, and humorous banter--even a lively animated sequence. Behind the attractive façade, however, lies a lament for lost opportunities. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

Special Features

  • Satyajit Ray: Selected Filmography
  • Original British Poster Art

Product Details

  • Actors: Sanjeev Kumar, Saeed Jaffrey, Shabana Azmi, Farida Jalal, Veena
  • Directors: Satyajit Ray
  • Writers: Satyajit Ray, Javed Siddiqui, Munshi Premchand, Shama Zaidi
  • Producers: Suresh Jindal
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English, Hindi, Urdu
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Kino Lorber films
  • DVD Release Date: April 18, 2006
  • Run Time: 129 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000EDWM1S
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #88,637 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Chess Players (1977)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Azad on June 14, 2006
Format: DVD
Ray's "The Chess Players" is his only film in Hindi/Urdu and is a masterful portrayal of one of the key moments in modern Indian history - where history's largest multinational corporation - the East India Company - is set to take over governance over the province of Awadh, ultimately sparking rebellion and the beginnings of the British Raj that would last until 1947. Ray's film is unique in so far as it exposes the decadence and complacency of the Indian elite - magnificently embodied by Jaffrey and Kumar and Khan as the Nawaab - at a time when British designs on India should have been apparent. The elite spent its time smoking hookahs, playing chess, composing poetry and operas oblivious to the creeping British authority that would ultimately wipe it away. The analogy or metaphor throughout is that of the chess-board, whereby the British have ultimately "checked" their Indian subjects without the latter even having realized. The performances are excellent; the screenplay, in classical Urdu is exquisite and the message - that countries colonized ultimately must share some of the blame for their fate - provides plenty food for thought.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John Farr on July 5, 2007
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Ray's light but lacerating satire of upper-class decadence and the bigoted hubris of British traders in colonial India places a metaphorical stake right in the middle of a chess board: Kumar and Jaffrey's childish need to reenact endless war schemes with a board game while ignoring the real world highlights their ineffectuality as "noble" men. And as the British attempt to checkmate the flaky king, even open-minded, Hindi-speaking Captain Weston (Tom Halter) forfeits his conscience to buy in to the new regime. Sumptuous costumes, elaborate set design, and one mesmerizing, dervish-like dance sequence make Ray's "Chess Players" worth capturing.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Underwood on November 4, 2007
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Written and directed by internationally acclaimed Indian filmmaker, Satyajit Ray, "The Chess Players" is an award-winning film which would appeal to an international audience for its historic content blended with human drama and touches of humour and irony. Unlike most Indian films known as `Bollywood', this film has none of the usual features of the popular musicals, and in fact, adds a few of its own unique touches such as comical animation to explain the historic setting of the story. Although there is a brief song and dance scene, it is part of a performance given to the king, and the only touch of Bollywood is the narrator, `Mr Bollywood' himself, Amitabh Bachchan. His narration explains the situation in India in 1856 when the British East India Company encroached on the last bastion of Indian rulership, but far from being an exciting, action-packed thrilling war movie, "The Chess Players" tells a more realistic story about attitudes, cultures and the personal lives of a few people caught up in the changing tide of events. The chess players are two friends who are so preoccupied with playing chess all day that they neglect their family responsibilities and are unperturbed by the British plans to take over their city. Even the Indian ruler himself prefers to compose songs and poems, fly kites and be entertained by his harem rather than attend to the affairs of state, and no doubt this film is something of a social statement as well as a history lesson. But rather than a dry and dull historic epic, Ray has managed to tell the whole story through the two main characters, the chess players, often with a tongue-in-cheek humour which makes the film highly enjoyable.Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rick Knowlton on May 12, 2013
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Being interested in the worldwide culture of chess, I make a point of seeing every chess movie that comes along.
This is certainly one of the best. cutting back and forth between two stories, the
film delights us with a tale of two spoiled rotten gentlemen who want to do nothing but play chess, contrasted
against the historic drama of the unilateral British domination of one final Indian province.
For anyone who has been bored to tears by tedious chess films, I highly recommend this as a
light in the darkness. A nice, easy lesson in the cruel choices of those who think themselves
so terribly civilized, filled with dramatic moments, some hilarious and some quite heart rending.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. MOLDOVAN on March 6, 2008
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This has always been one of my favourite films. I love almost everything from Satajit Ray but this is probably his best.

One of the most appealing feature of the movie is the language. On personal preference only, I classify Hindi/Urdu as one of the more beautiful, musical languages of the world and the dialog in this film is pure pleasure to listen to.

The only problem, which cost a star, is that my copy of the DVD is not very well produced. It's not actually faulty but this film demands lavish colour and sound which has not been captured. (On this same note, I have a copy of Dersu Uzala from the same outfit--Kino--and it's a shocker.)

So with this one caveat I recommend the movie to anyone who loves sumptuous cinema from a deep and strikingly beautiful culture, produced by one of the great masters of the medium.
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