Shatranj Ke Khilari

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Shatranj Ke Khilari
Chess players.jpg
Directed by Satyajit Ray
Produced by Suresh Jindal
Screenplay by Satyajit Ray
Based on Shatranj ke khiladi, a short story 
by Munshi Premchand
Narrated by Amitabh Bachchan
Music by Satyajit Ray
Cinematography Soumendu Roy
Editing by Dulal Dutta
Release dates
  • 10 March 1977 (1977-03-10)
Running time 129 minutes
Country India
Language Urdu/Hindi
Budget INR 2,000,000[1]

Shatranj Ke Khilari (Hindi: शतरंज के खिलाड़ी; 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 Wajid Ali Shah, King of Awadh, 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. The fastidious research and sophisticated portrayal of clashing cultures earned acclaim from both film critics and historians of the period.[citation needed]


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 Awadh (also spelt 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 Bachchan 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 him as the film's narrator since he could 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 28th Berlin International Film Festival.[2] It was also selected as the Indian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 51st Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.[3]



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.[4]

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 Mir 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 Awadh 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."

Other credits[edit]


Year Recipient Award Result
1978 Satyajit Ray Filmfare Critics Award for Best Movie Won
1979 Satyajit Ray Filmfare Award for Best Director Won
Saeed Jaffrey Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor Won
1978 Satyajit Ray[2] Golden Bear for Best Film, Berlin International Film Festival Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players)". Satyajit Ray official site. Retrieved 24 April 2009. 
  2. ^ a b " Awards for The Chess Players". Retrieved 8 August 2010. 
  3. ^ Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  4. ^


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

External links[edit]