Algorithms (2015) Movie Review: An Eye Opening and Engaging Documentary

I begin this post with a confession; I’m not well versed with the game of Chess. I do not understand the various moves and the different attack and counter attack strategies involved in the sport. Yes I had made a few half-hearted attempts to pick up the game ages ago, but somehow I just didn’t really get hooked to it for various reasons. However I do try to keep track with what’s happening internationally, especially since we’ve had a World Champion like Vishwanathan Anand from India. It came as a surprise some time ago when I heard of a film called Algorithms by Ian McDonald, surprise because I heard it was a documentary on Chess, blind chess players from India to be precise. What did I know of blind chess players in India? Nothing at all to be honest, naturally I was quite curious about the film especially when I realized that the film has had a decent festival circuit run so far.

Algorithms Poster 2“Chess is the only game where a blind player can play and compete at par with the sighted” says Charudutta Jadhav, one of the main characters from the film. Well Charudutta should definitely be aware of this; after all he himself took the game seriously only after going blind around the age of 13. He went on to win the very first tournament, at the district level before going on to make a mark for himself at the National and International level, even winning matches against some sighted IM’s (International Masters). Today along with his day job with TCS, Charudutta continues to contribute to the game of chess; he is the founder and general secretary of the AICFB (All India Chess Federation for the Blind). As part of his association with AIFCB, Charu takes pride in helping potential blind chess champions & has mentored many such players. 3 such blind chess players Darpan Inani from Baroda, Sai Krishna from Chennai and Anant Kumar Nayak from Bhubaneshwar, are the people under focus (apart from Charudutta) in this film which was shot over a period of 3 years, from 2009-2012.

All the 3 of them, Darpan, Sai and Anant belong to different backgrounds and play the game differently as well. Anant belongs to a very poor family and is always having to deliberate between chess and his studies, though Charudutta tells him that both can and should co-exist. Sai belongs to a middle class family, where his elder sister is also unfortunately blind like him. But Sai has the support of his parents and he is a keen learner. Partially sighted and aware of the fact that he might soon turn totally blind, Sai is a fighter who doesn’t easily like to lose, not even keen to agree for a draw in a match as far as possible. Darpan is pehaps the most talented of the lot and he comes from a financially sound family based in Baroda. His parents dote on him and his mother always accompanies him around to tournaments, being equally excited and anxious during the same. Darpan is a smart chap who knows how to balance his studies and chess; he is determined to do well in the game of chess. All three are mentored by Charudutta, in them he sees a potential World Champion and he feels they have what it takes to reach the big league.

Algorithms Still 2The film follows the exploits of these 3 players and Kishan as they compete in various tournaments across India and also abroad including the World Championship (blind chess) over the period of 3 years. This is a tale which has a mix of joy, ecstasy, sorrow, disappointment, success, failure etc., the film most importantly is strong on human emotions, without really going ballistic with it. Though a documentary film, Algorithms is a film which would in the course of the tale make you move along with the characters through their journey. This is a very tough attribute to achieve for a documentary film and Ian McDonald achieves the same convincingly. Probably the reason why he’s managed it is because the tale is treated with a lot of respect and the happenings around are shown in such a way that we readily connect to the characters and what they go through. Algorithms combines the strengths of a documentary and a feature film, thus enhancing the output tremendously.

Anant, Darpan and Sai !

Anant, Darpan and Sai !

The film is in black and white, suiting the game of chess and the nature of the topic overall. While Algorithms isn’t the first film, documentary or otherwise to be shot over a long period, following the journey of a few characters, it certainly does it quite admirably. Prasanna’s BGM works very well, the use of carnatic music in particular going very well with the flow of the film. The film has a lot of poignant moments, like when Darpan is talking to a fellow participant at the World Championship and on knowing that the other player is also completely blind like him, he exclaims “that’s great”-anywhere else it might sound odd, but not here. Another wonderful moment is when Darpan and Kishan are fighting it out at the World Championship without knowing that a win would ensure a medal for the winner and India. The match is drawn and that’s when Charudutta discloses the fact to them, his disappointment at missing out a medal is clearly seen but he manages to console the kids saying neither of them lost. He follows this by waking up Darpan in the middle of the night, only to tell him that there’s a slim mathematical probability that he might still end up with a medal and wishes him all the best.

Charudatta remains firm as a mentor, motivator and guide, and he respects and responds to each one of his proteges in the way that works best for them. Be it telling a good player like Sai to focus on the basics, or Anant to balance his life, he speaks exactly what the boys need in his own effective way. The film without getting preachy also addresses topics like why people with partial vision are allowed to compete with completely blind players in tournaments for the blind, how the completely blind are physically at a disadvantage as they require more time to play out their moves as they use a special chess board, unlike the others who use a regular chess board. This again is not something done in a preachy manner; it is only something we hear from some of the prayers themselves. The film ends on a note where we see that the journey is still on as Charudutta is seen with a new set of potential champions, a worthy ending for a film that is a revelation indeed. It is heartening to see a film like this getting made and also managing a theatrical release as well, after a good festival run. At a run time of 100 minutes, the film has the right duration suited for a tale like this. Irrespective of whether you are into chess or not, Algorithms is a film that would appeal to you. If you are a discerning viewer who supports quality cinema, then don’t wait, just go and watch the film now.

Note-Algorithms is currently playing in select screens across Mumbai, Pune, Delhi/NCR, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Kochi via PVR Director’s Rare.

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