Chandra Sekhar Yeleti’s story of a prisoner who turns out to be a chess champion doesn’t live up to its potential
Almost midway through the film, the result of a test is declared to be inconclusive. That word echoed my thoughts of the film until that point. For, here’s a film that has the potential to rise above the ordinary, but each of its moves in the narrative seemed shaky.
Chandra Sekhar Yeleti’s Check is the story of Aditya who commits a small-time white collar crime but ends up being framed as a terrorist. Languishing in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, he lives in the hope of taking legal recourse. Meanwhile, he learns chess from an older prisoner Sriman Narayana (Sai Chand) and the sport becomes his passport to fame and maybe, freedom.
- Cast: Nithiin, Rakul Preet Singh, Priya Prakash Varrier
- Direction: Chandra Sekhar Yeleti
- Music: Kalyani Malik
In his earlier films, one of the strengths of Yeleti was the dexterity with which he could circumvent predictable character and story arcs and bring in surprises. In Check, once we know the journey of Aditya from his childhood and what he has been up to before being framed as a terrorist, it becomes easy to predict what skill sets he would put to use and who would help him do it.
A memorable moment in the film is the reflection of the criss-cross window grills on the floor of the solitary confinement cell, forming a chessboard-like pattern. It gives Aditya hope to look forward to sunlight; he mentally sharpens his chess skills, waiting for the day he can demonstrate his skills. The bond that develops between Aditya and Narayana isn’t something we haven’t seen in international prison films or series, but yet, it works. But, when Narayana emphatically states that Aditya can take on any chess player in a state championship, and maybe even play all of them together, it reminded me of The Queen’s Gambit!
In fact, there are a handful of contemporary pop culture references — Master and Vikram Vedha being the most obvious, but one is also reminded of The Shawshank Redemption, Prison Break and more. Irrespective of whether some of these were intentional or not, Check would have worked better had the narrative been immersive enough.
Each time there’s a glimmer of hope at the story taking a new turn, it falls several steps back. Instead of rooting for Aditya’s rise to fame as a chess champion and cheering his lawyer Manasa (Rakul Preet Singh)’s coming-of-age tale, one feels let down. No, mythological references and philosophical statements don’t help to salvage the film.
Rahul Srivastav’s cinematography, Kalyani Malik’s background score, and the production design work well for the film. Nithiin makes good use of the opportunity to do something other than the routine and is convincing as the prisoner going through the uncertainties of life. Rakul tries to work with a part that could have been fleshed out better. Priya Prakash Varrier remains just a glamorous addition. In recent times, this is another film that banks on Sai Chand to play a prominent role and he does it well.
Whatever was the idea behind the Vikram and Vedha characters? And why waste an actor like Karthik Ratnam for one of those parts? Murali Sharma and Sampath Raj play polar opposite characters and do what’s expected of them. Simran Choudary’s role doesn’t give her scope to make an impression.
An unintentionally funny moment was to cast someone else as Vishwanathan Anand. It’s another thing to show someone’s profile without disclosing the face, if the sports legend hadn’t agreed to appear in a cameo. Having someone else in his place elicited guffaws in the cinema hall. When small things don’t add up, the seriousness of the final moments too get diluted.
Check might be one of Chandra Sekhar Yeleti’s weakest films, and that’s a pity.