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In 'Selfiee', Akshay Kumar Gets Jingoistic On A New Topic: Himself

This is #CriticalMargin, where Ishita Sengupta gets contemplative over new Hindi films and shows. Today: Akshay Kumar and Emraan Hashmi-starrer Selfiee.

In 'Selfiee', Akshay Kumar Gets Jingoistic On A New Topic: Himself
Akshay Kumar in Selfiee

Last Updated: 10.53 AM, Feb 24, 2023


"Director Raj Mehta's understanding of the superstar-fan relationship is so simplistic, Selfiee ends up as a PR exercise of fame, shorn of any critical lens."


A SUPERSTAR MEETS A FAN and gets into trouble. This one-line premise has served as the foundation of at least two Hindi films in the last decade — Maneesh Sharma’s Fan (2016) and Anirudh Iyer’s An Action Hero (2022). Both outings used the encounter to examine the entitlement of fandom and the volatile nature of stardom. Iyer’s debut film was a more subversive takedown of celebrity culture by turning the gaze on the media (and us) and bringing to the fore their fickle tendency to deify those they had smeared only earlier. In doing so, An Action Hero lent a rewarding complexity to stardom by revealing our toxic vulnerability to the seduction of power.

Raj Mehta’s Selfiee is seemingly cut from the same cloth. But his understanding of the status-quo is so simplistic, his translation of the superstar-fan relationship — complicated by the unidirectionality and conditionality of love it enfolds— is so virginal, that the film ends up as a PR exercise of fame, shorn of any critical lens. That the superstar is essayed by an actor known for headlining a certain genre, gives a head start. Selfiee is (also) a social message film, and loving Akshay Kumar is the message.

Vijay Kumar (who else, but) is a superstar. Om Prakash Aggarwal, a middle-class RTO Inspector in Madhya Pradesh (a sincere Emraan Hashmi) is his loyal fan. Kumar’s shooting schedule brings him to Bhopal and as fate would have it, he is in urgent need of a driving licence to continue shooting of the film. The original is misplaced. Om Prakash is summoned. He readily agrees to arrange for a licence without a test. In return he wants just one thing: a selfie. Vimla Tiwari (a terrific Meghna Malik), the fame-hungry politician, is the conduit between the men. She arranges for the meeting and Kumar agrees to visit the RTO (Regional Transport Office). Except, by the time he arrives, (in a typical Akshay Kumar style — at 7am in the morning), he finds hordes of press waiting for him. The news has spread and Kumar suspects Om Prakash leaked the information for money. As reporters hound him with questions regarding driving without a licence in the past, Kumar blasts Om Prakash and calls him opportunistic. What grieves the fan more is that his humiliation was witnessed by someone else: Om Prakash’s son — the fan’s fan.

Detail from the poster for Selfiee
Detail from the poster for Selfiee

From here, the story moves to familiar territory — a superstar faces a jilted fan. The common man strikes back at the sky he used to only admiringly look at. On its part, Selfiee neither goes the Fan way in which a fan’s unhingedness instigates his urge to upend the legacy of the star he once loved. Nor does it veer towards An Action Hero in which a star asserts his stardom and inhabits the greyness that comes with it. Instead, it unfolds as an almost vanilla outing that steers clear from delving into any form of intricacy. Across its runtime of 144-minutes, Selfiee ends up as a superficial depiction of a star-fan confrontation, all the while refusing to villainise — and more crucially humanise — either.

This is a shame because Driving Licence, the 2019 Prithviraj Sukumaran-starrer Selfiee has been officially adapted from, straddled this dichotomy well. Instead, in Selfiee Mehta takes minor narrative deviations, which are amplified in hindsight for underlining the filmmaker’s intent of maligning neither and valoursing the hero, Vijay Kumar. Take for instance the driving test that Kumar agrees to take in the presence of the media. The already angry Om Prakash makes things difficult by being extra stringent and failing him. In Driving Licence, it is Om Prakash’s superior who overturned the decision. Not in Selfiee though where a large chunk of the already sluggish second half is dedicated to applauding Kumar’s thorough knowledge of driving. Thus, all his mistakes are revealed to be inspired parking decisions. Because, a hero cannot make mistakes. Or maybe a hero can, but Akshay Kumar cannot.

This is not as much of a jibe as it is a grouse against the film which remains steadfastly aware of the persona of its lead actor. Over the years Akshay Kumar has come to be associated with a particular brand of moral uprightness, a curated personality manufactured by the products he chooses to endorse and the films he decides to make. On paper, Selfiee was a great opportunity to subvert this — if for nothing else, then just to be reminded of how good the actor can be when not tied to such trappings. The film opens with hope. Kumar (not unlike Akshay Kumar) is a brand ambassador of road safety, the media tells us, and yet he was evidently driving without a licence for years. This is an interesting nugget of information for the slyness with which it challenges the actor’s public image. But this dissipates soon for Mehta neither delves it into nor invokes similar instances. If anything, Selfiee reaffirms the actor’s persona. The character hews close to everything we know of Akshay Kumar. In the film, Vijay Kumar proudly states that he is a producer’s actor (wonder where we have heard that before): he does four films and umpteen advertisements in a year. He is a devout family man.

Akshay Kumar and Emraan Hashmi in Selfiee
Akshay Kumar and Emraan Hashmi in Selfiee

This amalgamation of the real and reel is funny till one realises that it only aids in something selfish — furthering the actor’s own invented reality. In one scene, he brazenly tells a fellow actor, who is gripped with jealousy and undergoing a trough in his career, that his films will work if he is a good person. It is as though after years of acting in propagandist films, Akshay Kumar has chosen something else to be jingoistic about: himself.

Having said that, his comic timing is unmatched. And Mehta has a genuine knack for the funny (however his fixation with women farting is jarring, and needs to end). As a result, the first half of Selfiee has some legitimate hilarious moments. The jokes land, the running gag of a loser actor (Abhimanyu Singh) doing B-grade ads works. Even the scenes with Kumar and local politician Vimla Tiwari are a hoot. It is in the second half that things get progressively worse. The portrayal of a star-obsessed media feels derivative and the writing (Rishabh Sharma is credited) goes off the rails. Mehta’s refusal to make nothing more than a skewed bromance begins to take shape. As an extension of this, the female characters in the film are nothing short of disposable. Diana Penty who essays the role of Kumar’s wife sounds rusty and gets only proper three lines to mouth. Nushrratt Bharuccha’s character Minty Aggarwal (Om Prakash’s wife) has been written as a one-note nagging housewife. Although she does get the best line in the film, I fear it was not deliberate.

A superstar meets a fan and gets into trouble. There can be multiple reasons for it. But chief among them is the lopsided gaze. When a fan looks up, he sees only one star. But a superstar is the sky itself. He sees multitudes not people. If there ever were to be an encounter, disillusionment is bound to transpire. Mehta takes this premise and blames the whole world except the both of them for the inevitable disenchantment. As if life is this simple…like a selfie.

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