A 19th-century Indian landowner discovers that the British have changed some of the rules of the originally Indian game of chess. "How is their game different from ours? he asks.
"It moves faster," is the reply. And sure enough, the next move is that the East India Company takes over his homeland.
Simplistic symbolism, yes, but in Satyajit Ray's "The Chess Players," it fits smoothly into the style of a sumptuous historical fairy tale. With it comes a humorous subsymbolism, in which chess is the Indian husband's equivalent of televised football, and a man cannot be expected to perform his marital duties while his mind is on the next move.
The main story is of an Indian kingdom of jewels and poetry that has so developed its esthetic sense that the sense competition remains only in games - ivory chess for the rich, cock-fighting and ram-butting for the poor - and leaves them no match, so to speak, for the prosise British.
This is Ray's first film about Moslems, his first film in Urdu, and his first film in this slow and enthralling style of leisurely luxury, into which animated political cartooning, into painting, divertissements and ironic narration are woven.