After ten years of humoring the local monarch of Lucknow (Khan), a soulful man who writes poetry and opera and has little interest in governing, the East India Company's British resident General Outram (Attenborough) boldly decides to engineer a takeover of his province. Meanwhile, two lazy noblemen (Kumar and Jaffrey) obsessively play chess day in and day out, at the expense of all else, including their unhappy wives.
Satyajit Ray's light but lacerating satire of upper-class decadence (and the bigoted hubris of British traders in colonial India) places a metaphorical stake right in the middle of a chess board: Kumar and Jaffrey's childish need to reenact endless war schemes with a board game while ignoring the real world highlights their ineffectuality as "noble" men. As the British attempt to checkmate the flaky king, even open-minded, Hindi-speaking Captain Weston (Tom Alter) forfeits his conscience to buy in to the new regime. Sumptuous costumes, elaborate set design, and one mesmerizing, dervish-like dance sequence make Ray's "Chess Players" worth capturing.