Satyajit Ray's choice of the Imambara at Metiabruz in Calcutta's southwestern fringe to shoot many scenes of his landmark Shatranj Ke Khiladi three decades ago wasn't a random pick. In fact, the location couldn't have been more apt for the subject of the film—a nuanced depiction of the decline of the kingdom and ruler of Awadh. For, it was to Metiabruz—a corruption of the original 'Matiya Burj' or mound of earth—that Wajid Ali Shah, Awadh's last nawab who was deposed by the British, was exiled. All that remains of the 31 years that the nawab spent at Metiabruz since his exile in 1856 is a sprawling Imambara and a private mosque (the Shah Masjid) that he built ten years after arriving here. And though both are in a state of dilapidation, it now looks as if they won't meet the same sad end as their creator and his kingdom: the Left-ruled Calcutta Municipal Corporation has decided to spend Rs 42 lakh for urgent repairs of the two structures.
The Imambara is like a miniature, though less ornate, model of the grand Bara Imambara at Lucknow that was built by Wajid Ali's great-grandfather Asaf-ud-Daulah in 1784. However, this Imambara also has its rich slice of history, including tazias that date back to Wajid Ali's times. The nawab's grave, as that of his son and many of his descendants, are located inside the Imambara.