This is Satyajit Ray's first film with Hindi and English dialogue. It is also his first historical film, set in mid-nineteenth century India. It is based on a short story by Munshi Premchand.
Two Nawabs, Mirza and Meer, are chess addicts in Lucknow. They play out their repeated battles, ignoring the needs of their wives and their country. The East India Company is attempting to bring their province under British rule in order to enlarge the Company's future profits. Orders are sent to the British Resident, General Sir James Outram to extract, on a trumped-up pretext, the abdication of the local king, Wajid Ali Shah.
Meanwhile the besotted chess players, too absorbed with their game and their personal quarrels, ignore the British troops that are on the move to depose their king.