In Chandra Sekhar Yeleti's Check, the protagonist, Aditya, is sentenced to death in the opening sequence. The court finds him guilty of abetting terrorist activities in the country, and before he knows it, he's racing against time to save himself from the noose. He seeks the help of a young lawyer, Manasa (Rakul Preet Singh) to argue his case, but neither the lawyer nor the court is ready to believe that he's innocent. In the meantime, he takes a liking to chess, which turns into his only ray of hope to stay alive.
Written and directed by Yeleti, the story is built around a bunch of questions - If someone is called a terrorist and sentenced to death, should the law and society give them a chance to live? If yes, then on what grounds should their mercy petition be considered? What does it take for a convict to prove his innocence after being called a terrorist? As a matter of fact, Check tries to address all these questions, but it forgets to check if the protagonist's journey has the emotional weight to root for him. It forgets to check if it has interesting answers to all the questions that it wants to ask. And more importantly, it forgets to cross-check whether much of its story and characters are heavily inspired from The Shawshank Redemption. Once you spot the thematic similarities, you can't help but feel what a big let down Check is.
The film's USP lies in the route which the protagonist takes to draw attention after he's sentenced to death. Soon, we learn that he's a boy wonder, a con artist, a smart chap who can solve Megaminx within no time. No wonder, he takes an instant liking to chess, and the moment he plays a game with a fellow inmate (Sai Chand), the latter ends up calling him a Grandmaster. But why is everyone in awe of Aditya's skill? We aren't told this. The film never addresses the 'how' aspect of his genius mind and expects us to be in awe of him. All we are told is that he's a con artist who can outsmart anyone. He doesn't lose a single game, ever, in his entire journey.
Yet, Yeleti falters while trying to balance the tension that he wants to create around Aditya's moves on the chessboard and those in the four walls of the jail. Is it the lack of conviction or the pressure of having to make a smart film? We wouldn't know. The storytelling itself is quite bland, and there's absolutely no reason why one must be emotionally invested in the journey of these characters. It's a pity because the story does come close to exploring people's will to live in the wake of death, and the desperation of others to come to their rescue. But all these remain as mere footnotes in the story. Ultimately, what we get is a film which has lost its path to redemption.
For all the drama that Yeleti tries to create in the jail, the proceedings aren't engaging enough and this factor rubs on to how Aditya's journey is portrayed on screen. It's lacklustre at best, and even when Nithiin flexes his muscles and brain cells to display how strong and smart he is, Check barely makes an impact. A lot of things do happen, but it leaves you dazed and confused about why they are happening in the first place. As Manasa, Rakul Preet tries to bring alive the transformation that her character goes through as she outgrows his timid persona, but she's always on the periphery as a meek spectator to what's happening in Aditya's life. Sai Chand, as Aditya's mentor, does a good job and it's one of the few characters in the story which has a definitive arc and impact, even if he seems abnormally in awe of the young genius.
To draw an analogy, Check is like watching a game of chess whose significance is lost in translation, because except for those playing the game, no one truly understands why a certain move on the board is so phenomenal. Much like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, Aditya in Check too wants to come clean and reclaim his freedom. There's a beautiful line in The Shawshank Redemption, where Red says, "Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane." But all Check made me do was hope that the storytelling and drama was better, and in its absence, all one can do is check the time left before you find your redemption.