Queen of Katwe is an inspirational sports biopic of Phiona Mutesi by Mira Nair. Mira has beautifully captured and presented the story of how Phiona Mutesi, born and raised in Katwe (a slum) went on to become a Chess Champion creating history for Uganda. Her life story is recorded in a book “The Queen of Katwe: A story of Life, Chess and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster”. Mira has kept the storytelling pattern very realistic and authentic. While the film focuses on Phiona’s journey of evolution from a poor girl born and raised in a slum to a self-confident chess champion, the game of chess is used as a metaphor to convey great philosophies of life. This film is also the journey of a selfless coach Robert Katende who not only taught Phiona how to play chess but also how to conduct herself in life. Overall, Mira Nair’s film Queen of Katwe is an uplifting film which has the celebration of making of a chess champion, the journey from ‘not-having any hope’ to ‘dare to dream and achieve the same’, the journey from ‘nowhere’ to ‘the top position’, the art of handling success etc.
Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) is a 10-year old, who lives in the slum of Katwe along with her mother and siblings. The family is very poor and has to really struggle hard to make both ends meet. Selling maize in the Katwe Street Market is the source for earning money for them.
Phiona coincidentally meets Robert Katende (David Oyelow) at a missionary programme. Robert is a soccer player turned missionary who sets up a chess club for underprivileged children. When Phiona sees Robert teaching children to play games, she is also curious to learn the same. This is where Phiona’s journey begins. When Roberts starts coaching Phiona, he notices Phiona’s immense talent, cognitive thinking, and her ability to see eight moves in advance. He grooms her for international tournaments.
The film moves ahead answering many queries. How does Phiona’s mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong) react to, when she comes to know regarding Phiona’s interest in the game and her staying away from selling maize ? How Phiona grows to becomes a top player under Robert Katende’s guidance? How Robert balances his own life’s commitments with his passion to coach these underprivileged children to play chess? What all challenges are faced by Robert to atleast manage to get opportunities for these children to showcase their talent to the world in the game of chess? What happens when Phiona tastes success initially, does arrogance engulf her ? Is Phiona able to resume her school once again? How does Robert respond when he realizes that Phiona is atleast 8 moves ahead of him ?
A few inspirational dialogues: ‘You belong where you believe you belong’, ‘I may be down, but not out’. Robert Katende’s story of cat and dog chasing meal is really inspiring, which says, the one who chases for life wins.
Even after the film finishes, the credits are inspiring since these bridge the reel with real. Each actor and actress is shown along with the real individuals whom they enacted on screen.
Madina Nalwanga is excellent as Phiona Mutesi, she has very well projected various emotions of Phiona, be it her initial amusement about the game, her realization about her own potential, her sense of urgency to be a master, her frustrations of falling back into old routine in spite of creating history in the world of chess, her disillusionment etc.
David Oyelowo has infused so much warmth, kindness, determination, empathy, go-getter’s attitude into the role of selfless coach Robert Katende.
Lupita Nyong as Nakku Harriet is also very good, who has handled complex emotions effortlessly, be it her protective attitude, or her being suspicious and dismissive initially of Phiona’s dream to be a chess champion.
A special mention of all the child artists, who are also coached by Robert Katande. There is so much humour in their interactions, their astonishment in experiencing lives beyond Katwe.
The film also inspires us to explore such prodigies in and around us and facilitate their growth. In India also, we have so many stories of people who fought the hardships of poverty, poor playing conditions, lack of basic amenities viz. food, shelter etc. to be a champion in life.
Queen of Katwe is an inspirational sports biopic of Phiona Mutesi by Mira Nair. It is an uplifting film which beautifully captures the evolution of Phiona to be a Chess Champion, when this child prodigy is identified and coached by a selfless coach Robert Katande. The film has so many positive ingredients - the celebration of ‘Making of a chess champion’, the journey from ‘not-having any hope’ to ‘dare to dream and achieve the same’, the journey from ‘nowhere’ to ‘the top position’, the art of handling success etc.