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Shatranj Ke Khilari
Directed by Satyajit Ray
Written by Munshi Premchand,
Satyajit Ray
Release date(s) 10 March 1977
Running time 129 min
Country India
Language Urdu/Hindi
Budget Rs. 20 lakh ($50,000) [1]

Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players) is a 1977 Indian film by Bengali director Satyajit Ray, based on Munshi Premchand's short story of the same name. Amjad Khan plays the role of Avadh king Wajid Ali Shah, and Richard Attenborough plays the role of General James Outram. The film also features the actors Sanjeev Kumar, Saeed Jaffrey, Shabana Azmi, David Abraham and Tom Alter.

Unlike most of Ray's films, the dialogue in the film is in Urdu and Hindi. There is little dialogue but the fastidious research and sophisticated portrayal of clashing cultures earned acclaim from both film critics and historians of the period.

The film is set in 1856 and shows the life and customs of 19th century India on the eve of the Indian rebellion of 1857. The focus is on events surrounding the British annexation of the Indian State of Oudh, the politics of colonial expansion by the British East India Company and the deluded divisions of Indian monarchs.

The Chess Players employed stars of the Bombay cinema (Amjad Khan, Shabana Azmi and Amitabh Bachan as a narrator) together with Western actors such as Richard Attenborough. Much of the film was shot on location in Lucknow and Rajasthan. Ray was so impressed with Amitabh Bachchan that he decided to use his voice as commentary in Shatranj Ke Khiladi since he did not find any suitable role for him.[1]

The film went on to win three Filmfare Awards, including the Critics Award for Best Movie, and was a nominee for the Golden Bear for Best Film at the Berlin International Film Festival.




The film shows in parallel the historical drama of the Indian kingdom Awadh (whose capital is Lucknow) and its Muslim Nawab Wajid Ali Shah who is overthrown by the British, alongside the story of two chess-obsessed noblemen.

The Nawab is portrayed as a debauched but sympathetic figure by Satyajit Ray. He is an artist and poet, no longer in command of events and unable to effectively oppose the British demand for his throne. Parallel to this wider drama is the personal (and sometimes humorous) tale of two rich noblemen of this kingdom, Mirza Sajjad Ali and Meer Roshan Ali. Inseparable friends, the two nobles became passionately obsessed with the game of shatranj (chess), neglecting their wives and failing to act against the real-life seizure of their kingdom by the East India Company. Instead, the two nobles abandon their families and responsibilities, fleeing from Lucknow to play chess in village exile untroubled by greater events. Ray's basic theme in the film is the message that the detachment of India's ruling classes assisted a small number of British officials and soldiers to take over Oudh without opposition.

The role of Captain Weston, so British in his ways, but in love with Urdu poetry, is also worth noting.

In the last scene, after which Mir shoots at Mirza and complains out loud "I won't have a partner to play chess with", Mirza responds to him "but you have one in front of you!" (thus making him understand that he forgives him). He finally concludes that "after nightfall, we will go back home. We both need darkness to hide our faces."


Filmfare Awards

Berlin International Film Festival


  1. ^ "Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players)". Satyajit Ray official site. Retrieved 2009-04-24.  


  • Andrew Robinson, "Satyajit Ray's The Chess Players", History Today, July 2007

External links

Preceded by
Filmfare Critics Award for Best Movie
Succeeded by
Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan

Shatranj ke khiladi ("The Chess Players") is a Hindi short-story written by Munshi Premchand. Premchand's Urdu version is titled Shatranj ki bazi.

The story depicts decadent royalty of Central North India. It is set around the life of the last independently ruling Nawab ruler Wajid Ali Shah and concludes with the British annexation of the Nawab's kingdom of Awadh in 1856. The two main characters are the aristocrats Mirza Sajjad Ali and Mir Raushan Ali who are deeply immersed into playing chess. Their desire for the game destroys the competency of the characters, and makes them irresponsible in their duties towards their families and society. They derive immense pleasure in developing chess strategies and ignore the real life invasion by the British. Their city Lucknow falls to British attackers as they are busy playing a game of chess.

In 1977, Satyajit Ray made a film with the same name, based on this story.


  • Pritchett, Frances W. "The Chess Players: From Premchand to Satyajit Ray" in "Essays on Premchand," ed. by Carlo Coppola; Journal of South Asian Literature 22,2 (Summer-Fall 1986):65-78. Available at


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