Akshay Kumar has become synonymous with the term “box-office poison.” Between “Laxmii,” “Bell Bottom,” “Sooryavanshi,” “Atrangi Re,” “Bachchhan Paandey,” “Samrat Prithviraj,” “Raksha Bandhan,” “Cuttputlli,” and “Ram Setu,” only “Sooryavanshi” managed to make any bank, that too after selling its rights to OTT platforms. Talking about OTT platforms, four of those movies didn’t even get a theatrical release because the producers and the distributors just couldn’t take that kind of a risk. But this wasn’t always the case with him. He used to be one of the most bankable actors in Bollywood, with every generation of movie lovers enjoying his brand of action-comedy and vibing to his songs. However, somewhere along the line, he rebranded himself, both in terms of his projects and his political stance. That’s why going to the theater to see Kumar stopped being fun anymore. “Selfiee” seems to be his first attempt in a long time to go back to those action-comedy roots while taking a deep, hard look at his image as a star and the current state of Bollywood.
“Selfiee” is a remake of Lal Jr.’s “Driving Licence,” and it is something that it admits right as the movie begins. It is directed by Raj Mehta, with screenwriter Rishhabh Sharrma adapting Sachy’s story. We follow an RTO inspector in Bhopal, Om Prakash Agarwal (Emraan Hashmi), who is a massive fan of the superstar Vijay Kumar (Akshay Kumar). He arrives at the first-day-first-show of “Don’t Angry Me” with his son Gabbu (Neev Ahuja) and declares it a hit before watching a single frame of the film. When he gets home, we learn that Om’s wife, Minty (Nushrratt Bharuccha), doesn’t approve of this behavior, partly because it’s distracting Gabbu from his studies and partly because she isn’t a fan of Vijay’s. But Om doesn’t pay too much attention to her, especially after he learns that Vijay is coming to Bhopal to shoot his film. Since Om is a government employee and Vijay is a superstar, it seems like their paths are not going to cross. However, when producer Dheeraj Jaiswal (Akashdeep Sabir) tells Vijay to get a fresh copy of his driving license because it’s mandatory for the climax of his film, Vijay gets in touch with Om. Om asks Vijay to come to the RTO office to collect it, with the intention of getting a selfie with him. Sadly, the media learns about all this, and all hell breaks loose.
“Selfiee” has been made with the image of Akshay Kumar in mind, and not the version of him that he used to be back in the day, but the one he is right now. When the reel version of Kumar is introduced to us, he’s seen doing unrealistic and showy setpieces while dancing with an actress who is 25 years younger than him (Mrunal Thakur looks great, though). That’s what the real Kumar does nowadays. As soon as Vijay Kumar lands in Bhopal, the first person that gets to have a photo with him, even before his fans, is the politician Vimla Tiwari (Meghna Malik). Do I need to explicitly state what Akshay Kumar does with politicians? I think you’re smart enough to understand. Vijay Kumar constantly asserts that he’s a “producer’s actor” and that he is responsible for making so much “content” while forgetting that quality is always better than quantity. As mentioned before, that’s all that Akshay Kumar does. He makes movies in a short amount of time, takes his fees, and doesn’t even care about what the final product looks like. Akshay Kumar is ridiculed for his gum-revealing smile, and so is Vijay. So, hate him or abhor him, you’ve got to appreciate the fact that at this horrendous stage of his career, Akshay Kumar is reflecting on what he has become, and that too on the big screen.
The satire doesn’t stop at Akshay Kumar, though. Om Prakash represents the law as well as the fandom. So, when Om goes out of his way to harass Vijay, “Selfiee” is basically talking about how the police abuse their power. It’s a sanitized version of what the real MP police do, but under the garb of comedy and drama, it does show that they can bend the rules or unreasonably force them on people when they feel like it. Om sheds some light on the kind of fan that does love their favorite celebrity while harboring dreams of being as famous as that celebrity through the cheapest route imaginable, thereby hurting his position as a fan and the image of the star. Like “An Action Hero,” “Selfiee” shows that mainstream news media is not in the business of reporting facts. They don’t want to talk about the issues that are actually plaguing the country. They want to focus on Bollywood because it gives them the publicity they need. And although Om Prakash is the antagonist, the real villains of the film are Vimla, who symbolizes politicians, and Suraj, who symbolizes jealous stars who focus on pulling others down instead of actually trying to be better. In my opinion, and based on Akshay’s social media posts where he has pulled down his peers, I think that Suraj is also a reflection of Akshay Kumar.
The cinematography by Rajeev Ravi and the editing by Ritesh Soni aren’t interesting. It’s competent enough to not be annoying, but there’s nothing cinematic going on visually. The songs are fine, but the score is obnoxious and irritating. And that’s mostly forgivable because of the performances. Akshay Kumar aptly essays Vijay’s arrogance, his seriousness about his job, and his love for his wife Naina (Diana Penty) while having this constant undercurrent of humor. He is quite spontaneous at times as well, probably because he is essentially playing himself, which helps flesh out Vijay. Emraan Hashmi is quite good, and his chemistry with Neev Ahuja and Nushrratt Bharuccha is palpable. His scenes with Akshay are undoubtedly electric, with the verbal test being the clear highlight. Abhimanyu Singh is the showstopper, though, and ends up being the most memorable part of “Selfiee.” Meghna Malik is hilarious as the bumbling and opportunistic politician who never understands if people are making fun of her or praising her. Akashdeep Sabir is impactful as he always seems to be seconds away from having a cardiac arrest. Kusha Kapila is excellent as an unreliable tarot card reader. In addition to all that, keep an eye out for an interesting cameo in the form of the driving instructor of Puppy Driving School. Yes, that’s Ajay Pal, aka Nandu, who starred in the popular anti-smoking and pro-sanitary pad ads with Akshay Kumar!
“Selfiee” is a great film on its own and a competent remake of “Driving Licence.” Hence, it’s definitely worth a watch. Although there are a lot of conversations in the film about fans and the general audience, who perceive the film industry from a distance and make assumptions based on what the media and politicians feed us, there’s no big takeaway for the viewers. Because the learning lesson is reserved for Akshay Kumar. It’s actually spelled out by him (as Vijay Kumar) when he tells Suraj, “be a good person, and your films will start to work automatically.” I am not sure if Akshay Kumar realizes what his reel version is saying, but he needs to understand that the kind of climate he is creating around the world of entertainment isn’t going to be beneficial for him or anyone else. The people that he’s appeasing aren’t going to buy a ticket to watch his movies or those of his peers. His hateful posts on social media aren’t going to translate into box office numbers or critical acclaim. If he wants to become a bankable actor again or just someone who is pleasing to watch on the big screen, he needs to clean up his act on a personal and professional level. If he doesn’t, well, don’t say that nobody warned him.