The year is 1856 and the place is Lucknow, capital of Avadh. On the throne of Avadh sits NawabWajid Ali Shah, indifferent ruler but a fine poet and musician.
In Lucknow live two jagirdar friends, MirzaSajjad Ali and Mir Roshan Ali, whose only occupation is playing chess. Mirza's neglected wife, Khurshid, would like to wean her husband away from his obsession, but all her efforts to do so fail. Mir's wife Nafeesa, on the other hand, encourages her husband to play so that she can carry on an affair with her cousin.
A bigger game of chess - a political one is being played by the East India Company. The Governor General, Lord Dalhousie, has decided to use the Nawab's misrule as a pretext A for deposing him and bringing Avadh under British rule. Acting under instructions from Dalhousie, General Outram, the Resident of Lucknow, presents his ultimatum to Wajid.
Mir and Mirza learn that the Company's troops are approaching Lucknow. Mortally afraid that they may be called up to fight for the Nawab, the two friends run away from home and continue to play in a secluded village away from the gathering political storm.
Wajid is faced with a situation where he must either give up his throne or fight the Company, with whom the Nawabs of Avadh have been friendly for over a century. Wajid decides on a moral victory and surrenders.
Anxious to avoid fighting for their ruler, Mir and Mirza end up fighting bitterly with each other over their game.
The troops march into Lucknow. Avadh passes into the hands of the Company. As dusk falls, the two friends are reconciled and resume playing their game of bloodless combat.
(From the official press booklet)