‘Algorithms‘ (2013) by Ian McDonald is a film about blind chess players in India. Ian told us that he kept a small newspaper cutting about the subject in his wallet for 2 years, before his producer Geetha J actually pushed him into beginning work on it. Before that, he had not known that blind people played chess, and in fact, he said that even other chess players knew very little about this.
‘Algorithms’ was shot by Ian and Geetha over 3 years, from 2009 to 2011, and then edited over 15 months. It follows three players, all in their teens, Darpan, Sai and Anant over 2 world championships and the mentor of blind chess in India, Charu, as he seeks to push the game to more blind players, to blind schools and international recognition.
According to Charu, “4 moves in, and we are all blind”. In this sense, chess is one game, that the blind can not only play, but that they can compete with the sighted equally. This gives them immense confidence in their lives as well. Because 4 moves in and we are all blind, in life, too.
Ian’s film explores the world of blind chess over 3 years. As he learns about the meaning of sight and loss of sight, about how we see or don’t see, about touch and the materiality of the world despite the digital age, his camera moves from a distant detached observation to more and more intimate and tactile positions, exploring textures and shapes, so that we almost feel that we too are visually challenged and are exploring through touch.
The film does not evoke pity or even sympathy, it does nothing to make us identify with the characters, but only to present them and their world. Only once does Charu say in a matter-of-fact way, that when he hears the sea, he misses seeing it, the beauty of nature. The parents of the children too, are like any other parents, competitive for their kids, wanting the best for them, and worried about their future. For all of them, it was the first time that they spoke to someone about their children’s blindness and how it happened, and these are powerful moments in the film, handled with dignity.
Geetha said Darpan is now studying to be a chartered accountant, Anant has come second in Orissa, in the IAS entrance exam, and Sai wants to be a journalist. Charu continues his indefatigable work to promote blind chess.
I saw ‘Algorithms’ yesterday at the Vikalp screening at Alliance Francaise, Theosophy Hall, Churchgate. But it was also screened recently at MIFF 2014.
MIFF 2014 was a lovely festival, with so, so many good films. But a smaller audience than one would have imagined. A week long festival at 100 Rs. and yet, why did people not show up? My friend, Satish, who attended the entire festival with me, and has nothing to do with films, said that he got to know there were festivals like these in India, only through me.
So here’s to all those who were not able to attend MIFF 2014 for one reason or the other, see the award winning films on Saturday, 15 February 2014, at Films Division Auditorium, 10th Floor, Pedder Road, Mumbai. From 10 am to 7 pm. For more details visit their FB page at