Shirley MacLaine is Madame Sousatzka, an aging piano instructor of Russian extraction. Entrenched in a dilapidated London rooming house, the Madame gives lessons only to the most gifted. She does not stop at mere instruction; Sousatzka insists that her pupils conduct their lives in the same genteel, cultured manner in which she was raised. Her prize student at the moment is an East Indian teenage boy (Navin Chowdhry), who forms a strong and loving bond with the old woman. Director John Schlesinger occasionally cuts away from the Madame and her pupil to allow comic space for the other tenants in Ashcroft's building, including an erstwhile songstress (Twiggy) and a gay osteopath (Geoffrey Baydlon). Navim Chowdhry's mother is played by Shabana Azmi, an important star of Indian films.