The brain sport of chess has conflicts intertwined in history, when it comes to match play. Two kings warring against each other in a duel until one falls, mighty queens calling the shots as happens in palace intrigues. Armies clash on a design battlefield, patterned on white and black squares. There is a time for reflection and a time for action by competitors, moves are made against the clock. A main plot and subplots are superimposed on the checkerboard. It’s no wonder, then, that filmmakers latched onto the allure of using the board game to script a story for a different kind of audience.
With the games in full swing at the 44th Chess Olympiad 2022 in Mahabalipuram, it’s time to look back at the chess-themed films that have emerged on the big screen…. Shatranj Ke Khiladi (released in 1977), Wazir (2016) are such Hindi films. Amitabh Bachchan is a common bond…. as a narrator in the first and as a performer in the second film. The famous Shatranj Ke Khiladi by Satyajit Ray (title renamed The Chess Players before its international release) seduced avid players, Mirza Sajid Ali (Sanjeev Kumar) and Mir Roshan Ali (Saeed Jaffrey) from the province of Awadh in India pre-independent.
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The screenplay, based on a story by the legendary Munshi Premchand, deals with these two nobles detached from reality. The British annex Awadh (also called Oudh), whose wealthy nobles escape to a remote village for a game of chess. Shatranj Ke Khiladi is director Ray’s attempt to bring out the craze the sport of chess can create in royalty then, at a time when kingdoms were targets for conquest. Wajid Ali Khan, the ruler of Awadh (played by Amjad Khan), is portrayed as a figure devoted to religion, promoter of arts and language. He was sent into exile in Bengal by the British, away from Awadh which later became a hot spot of rebellion against the rulers.
As a brain game, chess has very positive connotations, as evidenced by the phenomenal way the sport, played with black and white physical pieces, has spread across the oceans. The 44th Chess Olympiad, played in Mahabalipuram, attracted representatives from 187 nations from all continents. India are a chess powerhouse, possessing enough talent in the bank to field three teams (India A, India B, India C) to cover a withdrawal. Magnus Carlsen, 31, representing a small nation in Europe, is Chennai’s main attraction. Every move the Norwegian makes, on and off the board, adds to his aura as a current world champion.
The Norwegian, among the competitors in the current Olympiad, is a chess prodigy whose debut was the subject of a documentary. ‘Magnus’ by Benjamin Ree, tried to understand the reasons for the emergence of an exceptional talent, Grand Master at the age of 13 under the tutelage of Father Hendrik Carlsen. The youngster has received an offer from the one and only Garry Kasparov to coach. Carlsen declined, choosing to find his own way to the top. A sports celebrity, more than a chess genius, the 2016 documentary is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Magnus’ impact on chess today and in the future. .
The eyes and cameras that follow him to the Chess Olympiad, wherever he goes, would make any famous face aware of the attention. The world champion seems unaffected by the impact his presence has on others. Going back to Hindi movies, Shatranj…. was entered into the Berlin International Film Festival’s Golden Bear category for Best Director (Satyajit Ray) in 1978 and earned a nomination. Back in India, the film won Ray recognition at the 1978 National Film Festival (Best Hindi Feature Film). Curiosity about using sports scenes in film storytelling was the hallmark of a master filmmaker.
Amitabh, the narrator of Shatranj, played the role of Pandit Omkar Nath Dhar, a wheelchair-bound chess expert in a crime thriller, titled Wazir (which then means Prime Minister in Indian chess terminology). Wazir (the queen in English chess terminology), the film engages the audience in an interaction between Pandit Dhar and a suspended Counter-Terrorism Squad officer, Daanish Ali (Farhan Akhtar) via conversations laced with chess moves. Directed by Bejoy Nambiar, based on the story by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, the plot revolves around Daanish pursuing the murderer of his daughter Noorie and in the process meeting Pandit Dhar, the daughter’s chess teacher earlier.
The director has linked several subplots involving chess player Amitabh who has been known to take on various roles on the big screen. Chess maestros devoting much of their lives to the pursuit of excellence, such as the Indian world champion Viswanathan Anand, the colorful Kasparov, the stoic Anatoly Karpov and the temperamental genius Bobby Fischer, to name a few -ones that have made news in the world of chess, deserve a cinematic look. Films capturing how they changed chess forever in different eras and influenced events by the sheer force of their personality, can attract people to the sport. Magnus’ documentary footage included shots of Kasparov and Anand, the dominant names at the time. It was screened at the 2016 Les Arcs International Film Festival in France.
From 2016 to 2022, the avenues for telling a sports story have multiplied. The entertainment industry has taken advantage of this, reaching through various platforms beyond traditional audiences.
Chess tapped into the World Wide Web long ago, boomed during the pandemic years via online games, for example, the PlayMagus online challenge conceptualized by the Norwegian. FIDE has organized two Chess Olympiads in the virtual world (2020 and 2021). Normalcy returned to the sport in 2022, as India played the gracious host and committed participant. Many male and female players, some with masks, battled across the table in Chennai.
For those who fancy researching a sport played by quick-witted, calculating people, there’s so much going on around chess that’s waiting to be told in stories, beyond the moves. with Black and White. Blind chess, simultaneous chess, has already been staged by experts, including Norwegian and Indian greats, recorded on video. Movies weaving such scenes into the script, a display of astonishing memory power, can be as dramatic on screen as gunfights in a closed room. Regional and National Movie Moghuls, enthralled with Indian Hockey, Athletics, Boxing, Wrestling, Cricket scenes in movies released so far, targeting dedicated theater audiences and numbers to watch on TV, can zoom in indian chess king.
The chess journey took Vishy across the seas, his first lessons with his mother Susheela in Chennai and later Manila (Philippines) where his father K Viswanathan was posted, earning the nickname Lightning Kid as a teenager for his swift moves to become India’s first GM at 18. Visually appealing events in his life including watching La Liga football matches in Spain when Madrid was his chess base, participating in a 20-game chess match in 1995 against Kasparov at the iconic World Trade Center in New York. The Russian magazine 64 Chess Review chose him for the Chess Oscar (a poll of chess and chess experts
writers) six times between 1997 and 2008.
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To top it off, the 52-year-old has a minor planet named after him.
Japanese astronomer Kenzo Susuki discovered the planet in 1988, Michael Rudenko of the Minor Planet Center (USA) passed on the name of his favorite chess player and ‘4538 Vishyanand’ is up there in space. The Vishy Anand effect can also be seen elsewhere, in the little Indians inspired by him. GM Rameshbabu Praggnanandha, 16, playing at the Chennai Olympiad, is a child prodigy who did Indian chess pride by winning twice against Magnus Carlsen in 2022 in an online rapid chess tournament .
Incidentally, a biopic about Vishy Anand, as he is known in the chess world, is in the works, according to filmmaker Anand Rai. The actor who will play the main role remains to be determined, the title of the film has not yet been announced. Compressing the story of a living legend, chess action across locations, into a movie format is a challenge, as well as an opportunity for the film world. The pandemic years have brought chess to home screens via the online route, just as films about journalists have enriched our television, laptop and mobile viewing. Chess stories are waiting to be told.
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