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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Colourful and critical - but oblique, 17 Dec 2007
By 
Chandak Sengoopta (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Chess Players [DVD] (DVD)
When I first discovered the films of Satyajit Ray, I was a boy in Calcutta and he was in the middle of shooting The Chess Players. Ray, of course, was a veritable god in Calcutta and the papers were full of reports about the progress of the film, his most expensive until then and his first in a language other than Bengali. When Richard Attenborough arrived to do his scenes, the excitement heightened further - a real live British actor coming to work in a sweltering, primitive Calcutta studio! Just before the film was released, there were reports that Bollywood distributors had conspired to keep it out of theatres in north India (the interview with Saeed Jaffrey on this disc tries to probe the issue). Nobody, of course, could keep it out of Ray's own city and we were absolutely captivated by our hero's magnificent new creation. The sets, the costumes, the music, the acting all drew the highest praise locally, although Marxists and Marxoids inevitably grumbled about Ray's "wimpy" portrayal of imperialism.

Nationally and internationally, the film has had a rougher ride - there is little consensus on its position in Ray's corpus and many critics (Derek Malcolm, Stanley Kauffmann) have considered it to be a minor work. I think The Chess Players, in many ways, is one of Ray's finest films, but I can also see why it doesn't sweep people off their feet. The structure of the film is itself challenging - the two strands of the story are never brought together very clearly and Ray leaves the viewer to grasp the parallels between the two chess players playing their interminable game and General Outram taking over the province of Awadh from its legitimate ruler Wajid Ali Shah. Documentary-style commentaries (voiced by the Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan) and animation are used to establish the historical background. Although the pace of the film is measured, there is little of the patient observation of character and nuance for which Ray's early films are renowned. Most challengingly perhaps, the imperialist is not portrayed as an amoral aggressor and the indigenous ruler is presented as imaginative but incompetent. The two chess players represent an uninvolved aristocracy, and only a peasant boy, toward the end of the film, shows any spark of patriotism. The last shot - with an outstanding soundtrack few critics have paid any attention to - shows the chess players beginning to play in the faster, British style. The aristocracy, in other words, adapts to colonial rule in order to continue their privileged lives. When viewed attentively, The Chess Players makes a major statement on colonialism and the conditions making it possible but its message is unlikely to be palatable to conventional nationalists or neo-colonial apologists. It also has some superb acting, captivating music, brilliant historical reconstructions and a mesmerizing sequence of Kathak dance. It is not Jalsaghar [The Music Room] in colour - but then, it wasn't meant to be.

This DVD is an excellent production - the print is good, the subtitles legible, and above all, it is the only DVD of a Ray film that has real extras. There are interviews with Richard Attenborough and Saeed Jaffrey, both conducted by Ray's biographer Andrew Robinson. One wishes the actors remembered more about the making of the film - has either of them ever had meatier roles or a greater director? - but the interviews are good to have nonetheless.

So, here is a major Ray film on an excellent DVD at a reasonable price - buy it and enjoy! And hope that Artificial Eye brings out more Ray discs soon...
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite and fine movie., 31 May 2002
By A Customer
This is an exquisite film. It focusses on two friends, avid chessplayers both to the exclusion of all else. They play chess- whilst the British take over Lucknow. Excellent imagery, capturing the richness of this Islamic civilisation that was Lucknow before the British took over. Some brilliant performances.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Chessplayers ( of Oudh), 5 Dec 2010
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This review is from: The Chess Players [DVD] (DVD)
I think that this is one of the best films about Oudh and the British during the Raj.
As a Lucknowi I can assure you that the way of life depicted in this film is authentic. The slow pace and studied nonchalance of the two players is exactly - Nawabi Lucknow.
Rich beyond belief Avadh ( Oudh) was a kingdom that the British slavered for. They took it with guile and the impotence of the pleasure loving Nawab of Avadh ( Amjad Khan) to make any decision with regard to his kingdom. Khan brings the pained ringleted Nawab to life , nothing matters to him except the next dance move, the fleeting stanza of a poem.......
Sayeed jaffry & Sanjeev Kumar ARE the chess players and the nuances of their relationship as complicated & convoluted as that of the British & Lucknowis !
Richard Attenborough is effectual as an ineffectual Britisher. His attitude very much " I want it and therefore it is mine!" The moves within the film are slow and thoughtful , but it gives the viewer the time and space to consider the underlying emotions that eventually decide the outcome of this once peaceful though beleaguered kingdom.
What can I say about this Satyajit Ray film except that it is crafted with excellence as expected of him.
Shahmak!

I would suggest that the person who views this film see 'Janoon'
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5.0 out of 5 stars staggering, 11 Jun 2014
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This review is from: The Chess Players [DVD] (DVD)
staggering staggering staggering in its visual subtleties, its endlessly folded situating of the brutal wound of British imperial rule as suffered at the level of an affront between unequal equals, all in a way unequal to their own vileness or their own good. However it is always clear who is not civilised in this narrative, the vulgar Goves of this world should be chained to watch it until they begin to glimpse their own shallowness.
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5.0 out of 5 stars DVD The Chess Players, 25 Mar 2013
By 
R. A. Beretta - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Chess Players [DVD] (DVD)
A great DVD and I watch it often, the postage and packing was also good and I am very happy with this product
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Chess Players by Satyajit Ray is a gem!, 30 Jan 2013
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This review is from: The Chess Players [DVD] (DVD)
The Chess Players by Satyajit Ray is a gem! I find the acting really good and the simple plot with the chess game really translates the decadence of the ruling Mughals which led to the British managing to get hold of the land.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Want to watch a great film...it depends, 6 April 2011
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This review is from: The Chess Players [DVD] (DVD)
I found this is a really good movie to watch...in the right mood. First time I played this dvd it was weekday evening and cold and rainy outside and found I couldn't get into The Chess Players. The next time I tried it was a week and a half later on a lazy sunny Sunday afternoon. Some people (including some of my family members and friends who admire Ray's other films) may find that this film is too slow but for me it was just the right pace.

I have been to India many times to see family at various times of the year. In the summer when the sun is searing and its hot and humid and you just want to stay in the shade and do nothing to much to speak of. The film for me captures that mood. I really felt that this is what life was like in the slow lane particularly before the urbanisation of rural India and I don't know if this was deliberate Ray's part. If it was, it was a stroke of genius.

So one question that could be asked is: Isn't a great film great whenever you watch it? I used to think so but it's similar to music in that you may have a favourite song to suit your mood.
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9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars sunset over oudh -ray of genius, 14 July 2008
This review is from: The Chess Players [DVD] (DVD)
writer munshiprem chand
director satyajit ray
cast; sanjeev kumar ,saeed jaffrey,shabana .fareedajalal ,veena and amjad khan
released 1977
nominated for golden bear best movie at berlin
duration
127 minutes

rays most elaborate movie set against the setting sun of nawab wajids ali shahs rule over oudh is a brilliant metaphor for .the depiction of the degenerate , indifferent aristocracy who are busy playing chess while the british are busy with their own chess game to aquire the richest territory of northern india,the trick is immaculately played as the audience watch in retrospect from the perspective of a chess game .
the effeminate nawab wajid ali shah ,last ruler of oudh is meticulously portrayed by amjad khan as a pathetic ,degenerate figure who has an army of women as bodygaurds with whom he intends to defeat the english troops and their allies .if it was not so true it would be almost reduced to pantomime as he foibles with his female soldiers ,and their silken uniforms .
the queen mother -veena is extremely elegant ,eloquent , wise yet helpless knowing her son is going to lose his precious heritage-yet her pleas fall on deaf ears , its heartbreaking when she wails
we shall appeal to queen victoria even if we have to go to the shores of england ,
alas her wailing is futile and his self indulgent son is busy with his numerous consorts and court conspiracies .
it is indeed a brilliant chess game played with ivory pieces on damask cloth,and the players dress and prepare meticulously for the game as if it was a matter of life and death.
from the luscious outdoors to the authentic palatial interiors every detail is flawless ,but the satire is socio-political and defines a whole age and a few generations ,describing the evils of decades of decadence which is ultimately taking its toll.

the two nawabs mir and mirza played by saeed jaffrey and sanjeev kumar are extremely intelligent yet indifferent to whats happenning outside ,they continue to play chess while the english army marches into lucknow , theie desperation is visible in their mannerisms and mood , this is a subtle game , but a game where a glance or a gesture conveys what a dozen movies cannot communicate or put together ,
the frustrated wives who are aware of the loss are busy with their domestic cospiracies and gloating over dresses and jewels ,played accurately by shabana azmi and farida , their aristocratic demeanour is both hilarious and pathetic , yet that is what this society had degenerated to , you have to applaud the subtlety of how this is shown , no melodrama or sentimentality- just pure cinema,without correction or sermonising -the maker observes the characters who evolve in their own time in their ambivalent milieu.
the urdu language is used perfectly to show the mental calibre of these people , they are highly articulate , intelligent but too smug to put up a struggle if it will in any manner inconvenience them ,their risque lives are safe as long as the threat is not facing them individually .

its wisely said you cannot destroy a civilization till it has desroyed itself and that is the tragedy that had befallen oudh , the courtesans , kiteflying ,pigeon-fights and chess were more important then morality or freedom ,a kingly ransom could be wasted as shown in a matter of hours on trivia without any reaon-while the common man was suferring ,the aristocracy was living akin to the insensitive and degenerate existence of french nobles before the bastille fell to the rebels.

the scene where wajid laments the english violation of the sham peace treaty he had signed with them to his minister,actually makes you empathise at his impotence rather then evoke any sympathy as inteded for he is a vulnerable ,weakling but still a ruler unable to protect himself or his people

what ray is showing is how the indian aristocracy gave their heritage away for a pseudo luxurious lifestyle which was extremely frustrating in itself as reflected by the boredom of the the two nawabs and their wives-begums , their existence essentially was a useless nuance to themselves so why should they bother about whats happenning outside , the invasion becomes a trifle and the game becomes the ultimate stake ,the perfect illusion to create a shangri-la of blissful content -yet the doom is knocking on the door and their lives are at stake itself .but the self-deception is as cruel as the chess -game ,ruthless and imminently exigent ,giving no quarter to any party .

chess becomes the perfect excuse to escape the harsh reality and the pervading degenerate insouciance ,but it is also a metaphor for the victims and the agressor and the cunning will win the game of chess ,which alludes to oudh in this perspective .the concept was masterly and the execution becomes genius .

technically its superb , the vivid sunsets , the elaborate costumes are photographed flawlessly , the editing is marvellous as the harmony of the script is maintained throughout a complex plot , as is the music and the poetry , a great background score but ray knows when silence can be more useful then any orchestra or symphony as do all great directors [compare kubricks 2001],the final march of english troops preceded by a deafening silence is genius itself.

in sharp contrast to the ordinary indian cinema ,the british are portrayed authentically too , the role of general outram is played by none other then richard attenborough , it just shows the respect this ray of genius commanded all over the world ,and he is appropriately condescending yet sceptical of a culture he scorns and does not want to comprehend the moral issues that might pervade with his sensiblities and obstruct him from performing his duties to annihilate the rule of the nawab of oudh.

it is a tribute to the great urdu language which the director uses flawlessly ,every actor speaks in perfect accents and polished diction , this is no mean accomplishment when you realise sanjeev was a gujrati , yet he is perfect as a muslim aristocrat mouthing pure ,pristine urdu in compunction with his spouse played by the urdu speaking -shabana azmi.

finally just a trivia ,ray cast sanjeev and amjad after watching sholay , you can imagine this was his first and last urdu movie so everyone including the superstars were vying to work with him , when asked about his decision to work with sanjeev he evaded the question by saying -oh yes mr bachan has a wonderful voice and he gives the voice -over in the background ,but sanjeev -amjad suited the roles.

the chess players is the jewel in the crown of indian cinema ,it was constructed painstakingly by ray who drew every scene and sketched every detail before comitting it to movie stock,and the results speak on silver screen.

ray eceived his life time achievement oscar , the first and possibly last oscar india will ever receive a few years later he made this memorable masterpiece

the chess players had won the game with the yankees ,though wajid ali shah lost his game to the british, what a pity as history might have been very different
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Cinematic Triumph., 20 Nov 2009
By 
This review is from: The Chess Players [DVD] (DVD)
This film combines a love of history with a love of cinema. The Chess Players tells the story of the independent Indian kingdom of Awadh that becomes threatened with the colonial aspirations of the British Empire and the machinations of a British General eager to annex the kingdom. You cannot fail to be enthralled by this cinematic triumph.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Pleasure of Forgetting the World, 14 Sep 2009
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This review is from: The Chess Players [DVD] (DVD)
The story is set in 19th century India against the background of the British rule and their craving political and economic interests. Two long-time Indian friends are devoted chess players and they never miss an opportunity to get together in order to pay tribute to their passion. In fact, their mutual infatuation with the play leads them to not only withdraw from close and pressing Indian conflicts and from the merciless manoeuvres of the British governing body trying to dethrone the local maharaja, but it leaves them at loss with the changes in their own households. The story ends with a charming pirouette.
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The Chess Players [DVD]
The Chess Players [DVD] by Satyajit Ray (DVD - 2007)
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