Saturday, 19 July 2014

Shatranj ke Khiladi

After a long time, I saw this film again and survived the beauty. Shatranj ke Khiladi is in a language which is not Ray's forte. It starts with the bass-baritone of Amitabh Bachchhan (I would have loved to hear the same naration in his voice of now-a-days) describing the two protagonists Mirza Sajjad Ali and Mir Roshan Ali playing chess. Shama Zaidi's and Javed Siddiqi's exquisite Urdu informs us that these two gentlemen would like to fight only harmlessly instead of witnessing the blood and gore. Quite a surreal decision of action at a time when the country was being gobbled up by the British. Avadh, in particular, was in imminent danger because General Outram, a man of action, is planning to "take over" Avadh. The British were here to make money and would do anything required. In a telling conversation with his sub-ordinate officer Weston, General Outram declares that he has no business to continue to tolerate the King of Avadh. The arrogance is nauseating.

The King of Avadh, Wajid Ali Shah is an example of what happens when one's heart is not in what he is supposed to do. He was not interested in governance. He comes across as a good poet, a meek man and a sentimental fool. Half a century before his meek surrender, Hydar Ali and his son Tipu Sultan had given the British the hardest of the resistances they received in India. So there was no lack of precedence or inspiration. Wajid Ali Shah chose to suffer ignominy while Tipu Sultan had laid down his life in his effort to protect his state.

The two chess-players, the protagonists, choose to live in the past, bragging about their forefathers. When a common acquaintance tries to make them aware of the impending danger, he is pooh-poohed in a regal manner. Chess can be played in two different systems - the Indian and the international. The Indian style was in use till a few years back. As a child, I used to know both for example. In the Indian style, the pawn moves one place even in the first move. When Munshiji points out that chess, although invented by the Indians, was promoted by the British, he is promptly told that all that the British did was to empower the pawn to move two places in the first move. This scene is delivered with such raw display of idiocy, negativism and backwardness on the part of Mirza Sajjad Ali that the audience wonders whether Mirza is completely detached from reality. Sooner or later, audience comes to terms with the fact that he is not, in the sense that he knows that his obsession with chess independent of the turmoil all around is shameful. He himself says so. However, he continues just to play.

This film, strikes the viewer brusquely. It is a fine depiction of human insensitivity. The insensitivity of Outram is cliche. The British of that era, who came to India to make money, were known to be insensitive to the locals. But, apart from that, it is the insensitivity of the zamindars towards maintaining freedom is what cost us the freedom.