Friday 24 February 2023

"Selfiee" (Guardian 24/02/23)

Selfiee ***

Dir: Raj Mehta. With: Akshay Kumar, Emraan Hashmi, Nushrratt Bharuccha, Diana Penty. 143 mins. Cert: 12A

After the monumental success of Pathaan, something a little more low-rise. Director Raj Mehta has emerged as Bollywood’s best-placed continuity candidate, landing one of the industry’s last pre-pandemic hits with 2019’s babymaking romp Good Newwz, before resuming with post-lockdown marital farce Jugjugg Jeeyo. His latest expands upon the 2019 Malayalam hit Driving Licence, with its copper-bottomed premise: movie star driven nuts by the superfan schooling him in three-point turns. Another broad, sitcom-bright crowdpleaser, prone to abusing the wacky sound effect button, this latest Mehta comedy (as it were) has nevertheless been packaged with a professionalism that’s hard to deny or dismiss.

Crucially, Mehta gets his scripts right. Regular scribe Rishhabh Sharrma ensures this feud, between unsmiling action hero Vijay Kumar (Akshay Kumar) and moustachioed jobsworth Om Prakash Agarwal (Emraan Hashmi), develops organically from an early misunderstanding around the former’s surrogacy plans. It flares, wildly but not implausibly, into a 24-hour media storm encompassing weaponised hashtags, cancellation cries, and terribly angry mobs. Fixing one eye on the madness of moviemaking in modern India possibly explains why stretches are played with an oddly stiff bat: Sharrma’s sharper satirical barbs risk drawing blood too close to home. (In an opening, out-of-character address, the actual Kumar nervily maintains no slight is hereby meant on his real-life superfans.)

Still, it is well played, within certain parameters. Other halves Diana Penty and Nushrratt Bharuccha are left looking on in cowed awe as the leads go mano-a-mano; here, Mehta appears fustily traditional. Yet Kumar and the ever-sly Hashmi spar appreciably, and Abhimanyu Singh is hilarious as a rival thesp plotting Vijay’s downfall while making the world’s worst celebrity endorsements. A moderate timekiller, it earns goodwill with the sheer daftness of its final act, featuring a televised theory test and pro-celebrity parallel parking. But it may be time to reassess 2016’s Fan, one of Shah Rukh Khan’s pre-Pathaan flops, and a film that proved far more daring in pitting superstar against stan.

Selfiee opens in cinemas nationwide today.

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