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Documentary featuring Charudutt Jadhav, Darshan, Saikrishna, Anant
Directed by Ian McDonald, Geeta J.
From the first shot of fingers touching and feeling the chess pieces—those pawns and bishops—Ian McDonald sets up a gentle, unhurried and pondering pace for his documentary, Algorithms is about the extraordinary world of ‘blind chess’ in India. The flow is as measured, precise and thought-out as the game itself, at times still and hushed. All with the mellow music of Prasanna in the background. In focus are three young boys—Darshan from Baroda, Sai Krishna from Chennai and Anant from Bhubaneswar—all with the ambition of becoming grandmasters. Their mentor and confidant is the spirited Charudutt Jadhav who, having lost vision at 13, beat the sighted to become a national chess champion. He left it all in 2004 to become a visionary of another sort, devoted to the cause of chess for the blind. The film catches them all through a period of three years—from preparing for the world junior blind chess championship in Sweden in 2009 to the next championship in 2011 in Greece.
The narrative moves seamlessly between the games and competitions to the boys’ homes, neighbourhoods and cities. When it comes to the sport itself, the film plants you on the 64 squares. It’s all about the intricacies of the moves, about control and calculation and pre-empting the opponent. If chess is a thinking sport, then the film tries to take you inside the minds of the three hopefuls. There are nuggets of information—how we may have a blind grandmaster if we were to start training children early in it. Or how, in this mind-game, the blind can beat the sighted.
Algorithms is also a tale about the kids as individuals, the unfortunate ways in which they lost their vision, their radically different personalities and backgrounds. Anant, who is poor, is forced to choose studies over chess. The well-to-do parents of Darshan are encouraging to the point of being pushy, though he himself is easily defeated by inner negativity. Sai Krishna, on the other hand, is cool as a cucumber, not the one to easily come under pressure. Yet the performance anxiety does him in at championships.
Despite being so-called underdog stories, Algorithms is shorn of melodrama and is not just about triumphs but failures as well, as much about hopes as about despair. It’s about being close to a medal, a victory and yet very far. The film keeps the audience at an objective distance, the emotional weft comes from a matter-of-fact storytelling which doesn’t turn things pitiful or righteous. Like a heart-tugging talk between two blind players on their percentage of vision and the casual admission that they are 100 per cent sightless. Algorithms remains an open-ended film. It’s an unfinished, ongoing tale of champions in the making. Another documentary to find a rare commercial release in India.