Monday, 25 January 2016

The Chess Players (4 Stars)

"Nothing but poetry and music should bring tears to a man's eyes".

I'm somewhat ashamed that I didn't watch this film until today. When I heard about Saeed Jaffrey's death on November 15th I decided to watch this film to remember him. It's one of only two films I own in which he appears. The other is "The Man who would be King". Somehow I forgot about it, and it wasn't until today that I saw the DVD lying in my bookcase waiting for me.

The film takes place in India in 1856 in the Moslem province of Oudh. Mirza and Meer, two rich noblemen, spend all day playing chess. They don't need to work, because their great-grandfathers served in the King of Oudh's army, and they were rewarded with so much wealth that they can still live on it three generations later. They both neglect their wives in order to play chess. Mirza's wife is angry and steals the chess pieces. Meer's wife is glad that her husband plays chess, because it means she can spend more time with her lover.

At the same time there is political upheaval. Oudh is the independent province left in India. Everything else has been conquered by Britain. King Wajid of Oudh is allowed to remain in power as an ally of Britain. He's a deeply religious man who prays five times a day, apart from which he has 29 wives and 400 concubines. He writes poems, songs and operas. This doesn't leave him any time to do his job as a ruler, so Britain is frustrated with the chaos in his province and decides to take it over.

Mirza and Meer hardly notice what's going on around them. All they want to do is play chess.

Saeed Jaffrey
8 January 1929 – 15 November 2015

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