Recognising Their ‘Blind’ Passion
By Sonali Shenoy
Published: 27th September 2014 06:00 AM

CHENNAI: They say chess is the only game where a blind person can play on a par with a sighted opponent. And it’s likely you’ll agree after a glimpse of Algorithms — a documentary that follows the championships and conversations of three junior visually-challenged chess masters from Chennai, Bhubaneshwar and Baroda. And the film, which has been put together as a full-length feature over three years, is now one of the prestigious four from entries around the world to be nominated for Grierson 2014: the British Documentary Awards in November. Producer Geetha J relates this to us in layman’s terms. “The Grierson Awards is considered the Oscars of Documentary. Winning it will be brilliant,” she says with a big smile on her face.

Geetha, who hails from Kerala, partnered on the AkamPuram production with husband and director Ian McDonald and spent much of the last couple of years travelling across the country and even abroad to shoot the players in action, showing the film at festivals and sourcing every ounce of her creativity to generate funds. But in the wake of their nomination, which came in just last week – there’s no doubt it’s been well worth the struggle. She recalls, “We realised through the course of research that forget the world, most Indians don’t know that there’s such a large community of blind chess players here!”

And what started in 2009, as a journey locating teen players like Darpan Inani (15), Anant Kumar Nayak (16) and SaiKrishna S T (12) — has evolved into a lifelong friendship with the boys who are now grown men. With so much time poured into the project, one imagines that the filmmaking couple have now probably mastered several chess strategies themselves. “Not at all,” says Geetha. As it turns out, filming teenagers this proficient in the game can give one a bit of a complex. “We still joke about the day that Ian tried to play against SaiKrishna, he was defeated in five minutes flat!” remembers Geetha with a laugh. The film also shows Charudatta Yadav, a previous grand master himself, who is the head of the blind chess federation and mentor to the players whose lives we will follow. Just like a chess board, Algorithms has been shot in black and white. And if you are worried about it being as visually tedious as a chess match in progress, Geetha leaves us with a thought. “Chess may not be a very visual game, but when blind players take on the squares, their fingers glide with the pieces distinguishing each one by touch…and it’s beautiful to watch.”

Algorithms will be screened in Los Angeles and New York in October, and the plan is to bring it to India next year. The film comes with an audio description in English, as such it is accessible to the visually challenged as well.


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