Film

Soulful Doc Algorithms Showcases Visually Impaired Indian Teen Champions

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Three visually impaired teenage boys from India who play chess at the championship level are the subject of this slow-moving yet soulful documentary.

Anant, age 16, and Darpan, age 15, are totally blind, while the gregarious 12-year-old Sai is partially sighted. Filming in black-and-white, first-time filmmaker Ian McDonald tracks the boys over a three-year period, as they compete first in Blind Chess competitions in India, and, later, in matches in Sweden and Serbia. Algorithms doesn’t have a narrator, which suits the hushed intensity of the chess matches, where the players’ hands dart and dive with exquisite precision among the kings, rooks, and pawns.

Each child has devoted parents who’ve placed great trust in mentor Charudatta Jadhav, who went blind as a teenager, only to become a local chess legend. The depth of his obsession with creating an Indian world champion becomes clear in the film’s final third, when the boys compete in Greece.

Rather abruptly, McDonald lets Jadhav’s viewpoint take over the film, to the detriment of the three boys, whose fates, after the big match, we never learn. That’s frustrating, because the artistry with which they confront everyday life, as well as the chess board, is deeply moving.