Film: ‘The Queen Of Katwe’
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Madina Lalwanga, David Oyelowo
Director: Mira Nair
Mira Nair’s beautiful new film ‘Queen of Katwe’ touches the right chords without being cloying and sentimental. The setting is Uganda, where Nair met her husband Mahmood Mamdani. Uganda is also the place where numerous Indians, including a relative of your reviewer, were hacked to death by Idi Amin’s monsters. The nightmarish sixties do no figure at all in this true life tale of the indomitable underdog surmounting overwhelming odds.
Adapted from “’The Queen of Katwe’: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster” by Tim Crothers, the film follows Phiona (Madina Nalwanga), a nine-year-old girl living in the Katwe slum of Kampala, the capital of Uganda.
Like the biography, Nair shines a light on the power of faith and prayer, hard work and sacrifice, personal growth and a caring church ministry that works to raise the disadvantaged from poverty and despair.
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Lupita Nyong’o who speaks impeccable English gets the African patois just right in the role of an impoverished, God fearing widow raising her children in a slum. Sometimes advised to stray from the straight and narrow path to the wide highway that leads to easy cash (and perdition) the strong lady will not be moved.
Sadly, one of her brood of five yields and learns to cope with the repercussions. In time, the family gets a new lease of life thanks to the chess champ Phiona who, along with other underprivileged children, are encouraged in critical thinking and the game of chess (which, as you may know, originated in India).
You should also know the slum kids take to chess, since they can’t afford football (and resultant broken bones) Their coach and mentor is social worker Robert Katende (David Oyelowo, riveting) who not only shows the slum kids how to play the game of kings but also some salutary life lessons. And oh, what an amazing teacher he is! Himself the product of a dysfunctional family, the coach is so utterly devoted to their welfare, that he rejects the offer of a better paying job.
Nair reveals the societal structure of Uganda (where she still lives part of the year) with sensitivity and empathy with have-nots who compete with the haves inside the urban sprawl of prejudice (which is not confined to the well-heeled alone) Inspirational messages abound, traditional folk tunes and Ugandan pop songs dot the soundtrack.
The storm scene could have been rendered with more drama but all in all, QUEEN OF KATWE is elevating cinema marked by effortless acting and good camerawork of an inspirational story that will move viewers everywhere.