Shatranj ke Khiladi and Lucknow

Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj ke Khiladi is one of my favorite movies.It not only takes me back in time to an era which transformed the fate of the people of Awadh but is also a treat to the senses with brilliant research,narration and performances.

I am giving below a few scenes that would help you appreciate the Nazaakat,Nafaasat and Tehzeeb (culture) of Lucknow which was called the constantinople of the East.

Munshi Premchand’s story,Screenplay and direction of Satyajit Ray,Narration by Amitabh Bachchan and some brilliant performances by Sanjeev Kumar,Syed Jaafri,Victor Banerjee and Amjad Khan.It could’nt get any better than this.

Scene 1 :

Its the opening scene along with casting and a superb narration by Amitabh Bachchan.In his book Premchand has described the Lucknow of those times so beautifully that I have read the paragraph many times.I am reading a book by Sharar called ‘Gujistaan Lucknow’ which has vivid details of life in those times.I can now realize the genius of Premchand and satyajit Ray to have captured the mood so brilliantly.

The residents of lucknow had built a world of their own which was centred around the idea of pleasure in all its forms.They flew kites,sang Ghazals,watched dance performences by nautch girls as well as Kathak Ustads,had animal fights,ate the best of food in their dastarkhwans and of course played chess.

It is believed that Wajid Ali Shah ‘s dinner camed from Six different Kitchen out of which the the main Kitchen had an expense of Rs 800000 annually in those times.There were other Nawabs who were famous for their taste and used have as many as 25 types of Pulav’s every day for dinner.

By the way there is big difference between Biryani and Pulav and Lucknowites belived Biryani to be a food of lesser mortals.It was considered a tuaheen if Biryani was cooked instead of Pulav for dinner at someone’s place.

You have a taste of the Nawwabi of Lucknow’s public in the scene below

Scene 2 :

This is a scene from General Outram’s study.He came to be known as Sir james Outram later.The scene has a dialogue between General Outram(played by Sir Richard Attenborough) and Sargeant Weston ( played by Tom Alter).I read in an interview with Tom Alter that he was chosen for  the role by Satyajit Ray when he visited NSD on the convocation day.He was impressed by Tom’s knowledge of Urdu and told him that he would hear from him soon.In the same interview Tom revealed the level of detail that Satyajit Dada would go into making his movies.He sketched General Outram’s study for the shot so that there were no objects that were out of place.Each article that you see on the Table or on the walls was well researched.Same is the case with all the scenes in the movie,if you watch closely.The level of detail is just amazing.

Sargeant Weston describes the lifestyle of Wajid Ali Shah and seems to be quite impressed with his knowledge of the arts and Music.He even recites a couplet of Generals insistance.It’s a treat ..

Scene 3 :

This is a must watch.It is the best performance of Amjad Khan ever.For those of you who remember him as Gabbar of Sholay it will be real eye opener.Amajad Khan fits the character of Wajid Ali Shah to the T and with his impeccable urdu pronounciation and effortless dialogue delivery he just captures your heart.You feel sorry for the king who sang songs of love and freedom but lost his thrown to British Politics even though his subject loved him to the extent that they sang his songs in the streets of Lucknow.

I have used one of his other songs as the title of one of my posts on Lucknow – Jab chhod chale Lucknow nagri,kahen haal ke hum par kya Guzari.

It is said that when British army came upto his palace all his servants ran away and he just kept asking’ Koi hai joote pehnane waala?’


I strongly feel that even though times have changed the Mijaaz (temprament) of the residents of this laid back city has not changed.As soon as you step into the city the mannerism,cultured talk,fondness of food and of all other good things in life will be evident to you.

I could never decide whether it has done more harm or good for Lucknow but as far as its peole are concerned they still look down upon other cities in thier cultural development. The more I read the more I am convinced that they are right.They may have lost out on material side of things but as far as appreciation of art forms and sheer good taste is concerned it is dificult to beat this city of Nawabs.