A day with the Queen of Katwe (1/2)

by Sagar Shah
11/7/2016 – Recently chess players of Mumbai had a day filled with chess and fun. Firstly everyone saw the movie Queen of Katwe together. It was truly an inspirational movie. This was followed by learning the Queen's Gambit Declined from Power Play 23. In part I of this article, we bring you the reasons why Queen of Katwe is a movie that every chess lover must watch at all costs. And it is best to watch it, as we did, together with other chess friends.

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Chess players, in general, are not very social people. The only time that they meet their fellow chess friends is during the tournaments. Hence, when I got to know that the movie "Queen of Katwe" had been released, I made a plan to bring together chess players in the city of Mumbai. In order to make it more interesting we also invited a strong British grandmaster. But more on that later.

11th of October was the day of Dussehra. According to mythology, it is a day when the good wins over evil, a day when Ram defeated the evil Ravana. More importantly it was a public holiday which meant that more people could attend the event! By the way, I already had some experience in organizing such events, as we did something similar last year, when the movie Pawn Sacrifice was released.

"Queen of Katwe" is a movie based on the real life story of the Ugandian chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi

The place where we would watch the movie was decided as the R-City mall in Ghatkopar, Mumbai. It is one of the biggest malls in the city.

A Facebook event was created with all the details, and information was spread on various chess groups on WhatsApp. We decided to go for an early morning show at 9 a.m. so that we could have a chess session after the movie ended. The downside to this was that people would have to wake up early, but the upside was that the tickets were very affordable. Rs.100 (approximately €1.3) per head!

The mall was empty, but soon the chess players started pouring in

The best part about such events is that you get to meet people who have lost touch with the game of chess. For example, Heenal Ramaiya (centre) got so busy in her studies of architecture that she couldn't find time for favourite game. Queen of Katwe was the ideal way for her to meet her chess friends again.

Young champions of the city: Raahil Mullick, Dhairya Ghelani, Piya Saxena and Avathanshu Bhat

Apart from the 40 odd chess players who had gathered, the movie theatre was pretty much empty. All of us had good amount of space to manoeuvre!

Players from almost all the corners of Mumbai came to watch the movie 
(mind you, Mumbai stretches over 603 sq.km!)

The group selfie!

Phiona Mutesi is rated just 1628. So it is natural to ask, why is a mainstream movie made on her life? The answer to it lies in the extreme poverty and the surroundings in which she was brought up.

The slums of Katwe where Phiona lived

To put it in simple terms, the fight for the people living in slums was the following: if you earn some money in the day, you get to eat something that night. Even the basic necessities like drinking water, food, clothing and shelter were procured with great difficulty. In such a scenario Phiona dreamt big. She learnt the game of chess in a local sports outreach institution from her coach Robert Katende. It is simply amazing that from such dire conditions, Phiona not only became the national champion, but went on to represent her country in four chess Olympiads (Istanbul, Khanty Mansisyk, Tromso and Baku).

In the depressing slums of Katwe, her chess achievements were something that made the people rejoice

The movie focusses on the huge contribution made by trainer Robert Katende in Phiona's career. It shows how important the role of a coach is in the life of an ambitious chess player. Robert left enticing opportunities to better his life, just so that he could support Phiona and her passion for chess.

Harriet Mutesi, Phiona's mother, is a powerful woman. In spite of losing her husband, and having to raise her kids alone, she made sure that she supported Phiona in the very best way she could.

There was one particular scene which showed the mother's sacrifices in the best possible manner: Phiona is reading a chess book late in the night. Her mother asks her to put out the light from the fear that they would run out of paraffin. Phiona grudgingly does that. Harriet feels bad that she couldn't help her child pursue her passion. Next day, she goes to the market sells her favourite dress to buy paraffin so that Phiona could study chess at night. That scene is enough to convince parents all over the world that real sacrifices have to be made in order to create champions.

Magnus Carlsen at the movie's premier in New York

Magnus speaks about the Queen of Katwe

This movie shows how powerful the game of chess is. It has the capacity to not only take you to different places all over the world, but also change the quality of your life. At the end of the movie Phiona was able to buy a house for her family, a family that had always been without a roof, only through her chess skills. That's what made the movie completely special for me. A great feat by director Mira Nair.

"It doesn't matter where you come from, you can always achieve great things!" - Magnus Carlsen

Phiona Mutesi is and will always be an inspiration to chess players all over the world (photo by David Llada)

Christiane Amanpour talks to Mira Nair (director of the film) about Queen of Katwe

There are literally thousands of news articles on the movie listed in Google News.

The movie was over. It was now time for chess! Everyone took a break to have their lunch and the plan was to meet at my place at 1 p.m. We were all going to watch Powerplay 23, and learn the Queen's Gambit Opening from GM Daniel King. But there was a twist. Part II of this article will bring you all the details.

Also read:

Chess movie 'Queen of Katwe' is announced
4/9/2016 – Chess is on the rise, even in the world of motion pictures. Based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi, a starving Ugandan girl living in the streets who learned chess at age nine while looking for food handouts and became the Ugandan Open junior champion (defeating the boys) at age 16, Disney will be releasing a film on her later this year starring Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o.

Phiona meets Kasparov
5/7/2013 – The "Women in the World Summit" in New York City showcased celebrities, politicians, freedom-fighters, entrepreneurs, and two very different chessplayers. Former world champion Garry Kasparov spoke on chess and education on a panel with Ugandan teen Phiona Mutesi, whose story of survival and triumph brought tears and applause. They even played chess!

Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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