Equality on 64 squares 

Lack of sight is not a handicap in this game, shows a new documentary on blind chess players in India 

Arun Janardhan
Wed, Dec 12 2012. 07 50 PM IST

British film-maker Ian McDonald’s documentary Algorithms begins with close-ups of long, inquisitive fingers feeling the pieces on a chessboard. Gentle Carnatic music (rendered by composer and guitarist Prasanna) plays on guitar in the background as different sets of hands search for the right move. It’s not just the chessboard that’s black and white; the film itself is devoid of colour.
“As soon as you make something black and white, you make it explicit that you are watching what’s not completely real,” says McDonald. “We want the audience to ask and answer the question why. Is it to provoke us about the nature of sight, whether what we are seeing is real, raise the questions of seeing, not seeing? Sometimes colour gets in the way, but black and white is more intense.”
Algorithms is the journey of three teenage chess players—from a tournament in Mumbai in 2009 through the World Junior Blind Chess Championship in Sweden later that year to just after the next edition in Greece 2011. During this three-year journey (he finished shooting in January 2012), McDonald followed the three boys, Saikrishna S.T., Darpan Inani and Anant Kumar Nayak, to their homes in Chennai, Vadodara and Bhubaneshwar respectively, to highlight their struggles, anxieties and hopes.

The film, produced by Geetha J., premiered at the 43rd International Film Festival of India (Iffi) in Panaji, Goa, late last month and will travel to other festivals.
McDonald, who also teaches sociology at the University of Brighton, UK, was shooting a documentary on the Kerala martial art form of Kalaripayattu from 2004-06 when he came across a small newspaper article on a junior blind chess tournament in Kerala. He kept the clipping, hoping to revisit the issue later. “I am interested in sport stories with a twist,” he says.
Curiosity took him to a tournament for the blind in England and, he says, there were maybe 20 players, 15 of them over 60 years old. He went to the nationals in Mumbai, 2009, and saw hundreds of players, many of whom were children. “It was amazing. There was a thriving, hidden world of blind chess here,” says McDonald, who was now hooked to the story.
Though the three boys’ objectives are the same, their stories are different. Saikrishna, 12 years old at the beginning of the film, is partially blind and struggles to cope with his disappointing losses in the world event both times. Inani, 15, is fully blind and the only one with an Elo rating (a system to calculate relative skill levels of players). He succumbs every time the pressure intensifies, which bothers him and his parents. Nayak, 16, also totally blind, cannot continue with his chess for too long because he comes from a different socio-economic class and is under pressure from his parents to focus more on academics. 
Each thread is layered, gives the perspectives of the respective parents, tackles issues of infrastructure, education, competition, finances and ambition. 
“I didn’t want to romanticize blindness,” says McDonald. “Saikrishna is going completely blind but it’s not made clear in the film. The other two, their tragedy is in the past; Sai faces a tragic future.”

Full article here.

Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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