The Chess Players (film)

Shatranj Ke Khilari, also subtitled and later internationally released with the translated title The Chess Players, is a 1977 Indian film written and directed by Satyajit Ray, based on Munshi Premchand's short story of the same name. Amjad Khan plays the role of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, Nawab of Awadh, and Richard Attenborough enacts the role of General James Outram. The main cast includes actors Sanjeev Kumar and Saeed Jaffrey as the chess players. It also has Shabana Azmi, Farooque Shaikh, Farida Jalal, David Abraham, and Tom Alter. It has Amitabh Bachchan as the narrator. This is the only full-length Hindi feature film of filmmaker Satyajit Ray. He later made a short Hindi film for TV named Sadgati, another adaptation of Munshi Premchand's short story.

Shatranj Ke Khilari
Chess players.jpg
Directed bySatyajit Ray
Written bySatyajit Ray
Shama Zaidi
Javed Siddiqi
Screenplay bySatyajit Ray
Based onShatranj ke Khiladi
by Munshi Premchand
Produced bySuresh Jindal[1][2]
StarringSanjeev Kumar
Saeed Jaffrey
Shabana Azmi
Richard Attenborough
Farida Jalal
Amjad Khan
David Abraham
Victor Banerjee
Farooque Shaikh
Tom Alter
Leela Mishra
Samarth Narain
Bhudo Advani
Narrated byAmitabh Bachchan
CinematographySoumendu Roy
Edited byDulal Dutta
Music bySatyajit Ray
Release date
  • 11 March 1977 (1977-03-11)
Running time
129 minutes
Budgetest. 20 lakh
(est. 5.66 crore as of 2022) [3]


The film is set in 1856 on the eve of the Indian rebellion of 1857. The British are about to annex the Oudh State (also spelled Awadh). The daily life of two wealthy men who are devoted to chess is presented against the background of scheming officials of the British East India Company, the history of its relations with the Indian ruler of Awadh, and the ruler's devotion both to his religious practice and the pursuit of pleasure.

The Chess Players employed stars of the Bombay cinema (Amjad Khan, Shabana Azmi and Amitabh Bachchan as a narrator) together with British actors (such as Richard Attenborough).

It was India's entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 51st Academy Awards, but did not receive a nomination.[4]


The film shows in parallel the historical drama of the Indian princely state of Awadh (whose capital is Lucknow) and its Nawab, Wajid Ali Shah who is overthrown by the British, alongside the story of two noblemen who are obsessed with shatranj, i.e., chess.

Amjad Khan plays the ruling Nawab of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah. He is a languid 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 humorous) tale of two rich, indolent noblemen of this kingdom, Mirza Sajjad Ali and Mir Roshan Ali. Inseparable friends, the two nobles are passionately obsessed with the game of shatranj (chess). Both effectively neglect their wives and fail to fight the takeover of their kingdom by the East India Company. Instead, they escape their harangued wives and responsibilities, fleeing from Lucknow to play chess in a tiny village untouched by greater events. Ray's basic theme in the film is the message that the self-centredness, detachment and cowardice of India's ruling classes catalysed the annexation of Awadh by a handful of British officials.

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 "(If you die) 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."



The film was well received upon its release.[5] Despite the film's limited budget, The Washington Post critic Gary Arnold gave it a positive review; "He [Ray] possesses what many overindulged Hollywood filmmakers often lack: a view of history".[6] According to Martin Scorsese, "This film deals with a moment of incredible change in Indian history and is told from a comical view that is a hallmark of Ray’s work. Watching it again, I realize this is what it must really feel like to live through a moment of historic change. It feels this big and tragic at the same time."[7]

Awards and nominationsEdit

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result
1978 Berlin International Film Festival Golden Bear Satyajit Ray Nominated
1978 National Film Awards Best Feature Film in Hindi Won
Best Cinematography (Color) Soumendu Roy Won
1978 Filmfare Awards Best Film (Critics) Satyajit Ray Won
1979 Best Film Suresh Jindal Nominated
Best Director Satyajit Ray Won
Best Supporting Actor Saeed Jaffrey


The Chess Players was preserved by the Academy Film Archive in 2010.[8]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Aseem Chhabra (15 August 2017). "'There was always a huge calm on the set'". The Hindu. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  2. ^ "'Working with Satyajit Ray Was One of the Joys of Producing Shatranj Ke Khiladi'". The Wire. 28 July 2017. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  3. ^ "Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players)". Satyajit Ray official site. Retrieved 24 April 2009.
  4. ^ Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  5. ^ "When Amjad Khan, Attenborough, Sanjeev Kumar got together". Rediff.
  6. ^ Arnold, Gary (6 April 1978). "The Chess Players". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  7. ^ Sharf, Zack (25 March 2021). "Martin Scorsese's Favorite Movies: 40 Films the Director Wants You to See". IndieWire. Retrieved 8 January 2022.
  8. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.

Further readingEdit

  • Satyajit Ray, The Chess Players and Other Screenplays. London: Faber and Faber, 1989. ISBN 0-571-14074-2
  • Andrew Robinson, "Satyajit Ray's The Chess Players", History Today, July 2007

External linksEdit