Selfiee Movie Review: The Khiladi finally gets playful
Akshay Kumar lets loose and pokes fun at his stardom, with great help from Emraan Hashmi
Before Selfiee begins, Akshay Kumar comes on screen, but not to give stale sermons against nicotine. “I am what I am because of my fans,” he says. “This film is dedicated to all of them. We expect it to meet their expectations.”
Starring: Akshay Kumar, Emraan Hashmi, Diana Penty, Nushratt Bharuccha, Abhimanyu Singh, Kusha Kapila
Directed by: Raj Mehta
In the last two years, Kumar hasn’t been able to backflip over both commercial and critical bars. Even when he has tried (saving) everything. In Aanand L. Rai’s Atrangi Re (2021) he tries to save the audience from bigotry, in Samrat Prithviraj (2022)--just like many others--he tries to save the motherland from Muslim invaders, in Raksha Bandhan (2022) he tries but fails to save his sister from dowry killing, in his OTT debut Cuttputlli (2022) he tries to save young girls from a psychopath, and in Ram Setu (2022) he tries to save…well Ram Setu and also viewers from the “perils of atheism.” In my wild imagination, maybe Kumar’s PA (like the one played by Mahesh Thakur in Selfiee) came up to him and whispered in his ear, “Sir, nothing is working” and Kumar fierily looked into their eyes, holds them by the hair and asks, “Aur bacha kya hain bachane ko (What is left to be saved?). The PA, about to cry, says, “Yourself sir, yourself.”
So, the gloves are off, the neck muscles are cracked and Akshay Kumar is out to play on his image. After the release of Pathaan, director Siddharth Anand explained in an interview that Shah Rukh Khan’s inaccessibility created a thirst for him in public, which led to the film’s record-smashing success. Public intrigue might not be on Kumar’s side since he dominates all screens all year (his character in Selfiee says, “I have no time, I have to do four films in a year, two for OTT too; 28 ads, 17 shows and 1 or 2 reality show also”). Whenever a Kumar film releases social media is rife with jokes (“By the time my clothes dry another of his films come”… yada yada yada), but he might have aced it this time, at least with fans of his comic timing.
In Selfiee, Kumar wears his stardom on his sleeve like a fitness band. He plays Vijay Kumar whose last film was Don’t Angry Me, which is also the catchphrase of Kumar’s character from Rowdy Rathore (2012). Vijay’s entry song, Kudi Ni Teri Vibe, seems like it was supposed to be in Singh is Kinng (2008). His motto is “main kaam se nahi thakta, sirf araam se thakta hoon (I don’t get tired of work, I only get tired of rest). Vijay Kumar is Akshay Kumar, the only difference is that Vijay is in need of a driving licence and not an Indian citizenship (stuff for another film maybe?).
The mantle to give this licence is on ‘Vijay sir’s’ biggest fan, RTO officer Om Prakash Aggarwal (a delightfully casted Emraan Hashmi). All Aggarwal wants is a selfie, but things don’t go as planned and it is Superstar Vs Common Man all over again. We last saw this volatile combination of cars, fans and stars in An Action Hero (Kumar had a cameo in it). However, the media satire, like it was in the Ayushmann Khurrana starrer, is even more tired here. How many times can one laugh at a news anchor straining his vocal cords?
Still, director Raj Mehta knows how to put Kumar at ease. His last outing with the actor, Good Newwz (2019), saw Kumar as an irritable middle-aged husband vexed with life, his wife, cracking fart jokes and rolling joints. In Selfiee too Kumar pokes fun at his persona, calls himself “the producer’s actor” and flashes his “gummy” smile. But it’s not just him, there is great help around in the form of Hashmi, who plays an amiable father trying to be his child’s hero (In 2016, Hashmi wrote an autobiographical book, The Kiss of Life, about his son’s fight against cancer. The foreword was written by Kumar). There is also Abhimanyu Singh, playing a failed movie star, whose TV advertisements on English classes and Bhandup’s gyms have the best writing. Nushratt Bharuccha and Diana Penty, however, do what most Hindi film heroines do, motivate the male lead.
The coherent storyline and perfect beats of Selfiee owe it to the Malayalam original Driving Licence (2019). But, while the Prithviraj Sukumaran starrer was more solemn, Selfiee plays to Kumar’s image, sometimes a bit too much. For instance, in Driving Licence, Prithviraj’s introductory scene shows him dressed as a covert soldier, sneaking in behind goons, while in Selfiee, Kumar smoothly machine-guns a chopper. But I have no qualms, I like my Akshay seedha, zyada.