The one full feature film that the great Bengali director Satyajit Ray made in Urdu/English was “Shatranj Ke Khilari”. The movie is loosely inspired from a short satirical story by Premchand about the “Annexation of Awadh” in which 2 Awadhi Nawabs get so addicted to playing chess that they lose all interest in the affairs of the state and keep playing while the British complete the takeover of the state.
Although Ray is more known for the Bengali movies he made earlier in his career eg the Apu Trilogy, Charulata, Ghare-Baire, this particular movie remains the one which is easiest to appreciate for Non-Bengali people. Its also very different from the rest of Ray’s movies in terms of subject matter. His other work focuses narrowly, highlighting the individual and the emotional interplay between a few characters coming to terms with the changes around them. This one focuses more evenly on the actual changing world as well as the characters involved.
Most of the screenplay is in Urdu and was written by someone else but there are 2 parts which are in English and were written by Ray himself. These are the parts which in my opinion which really tower above the rest of the movie. Ray was an ambidextrous personality who in addition to making movies, wrote his own screenplays, composed his own original soundtracks, wrote delightful short stories and detective novels for children among other things.
Here is the first of these scenes in which General Outram (played by Richard Attenborough who later made the Oscar winning film Gandhi), the resident at Lucknow, has a conversation with his ADC about Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. The atmosphere, the sets, the dialogue and the acting are all so bloody realistic that one forgets one is watching a movie.The scene highlights the clash of cultures in extreme yet subtle contrast. The hard nosed, business-minded and professional British versus the soft, feminine, decadent yet culturally sophisticated Indians.
And here’s the second. Outram has a conversation with a British Doctor about the legal and practical challenges regarding the Company’s takeover of Awadh.
Start from the 2.05 minute mark.