Is there a part of Akshay Kumar that regrets making a brief appearance in An Action Hero? His witty cameo is a highlight of the 2022 film, which mines similar territory to Selfiee while being smarter, quicker and funnier. Both films riff on the strange relationship between Indian movie stars and fans in the age of social media, where adulation can suddenly turn to righteous anger. But where An Action Hero starts off cynical and stays that way, Selfiee, a Hindi remake of the 2019 Malayalam film Driving License, just can’t stay mad at those good-natured, hard-working stars.
Om Prakash (Emraan Hashmi) is a dweeby RTO inspector whose life revolves around his worship of actor Vijay Kumar (Akshay Kumar). When he learns that not only is Vijay shooting in Bhopal but needs his help getting a driver’s license, he can’t believe his luck. Through a local councilor, Vijay promises Om a selfie in return for the favour. But the press gets wind of the meeting and Vijay—inundated by hangers-on and distracted by the impending birth of his child—suspects Om to be the leak. He tells Om off in front of his son and leaves in a rage.
Here's where things get weird. Om, stung by Vijay’s disrespect, takes advantage of the actor’s urgent need of a new driver’s license so he can drive in the film he's shooting. He whips the media into a frenzy (An Action Hero had bloodthirsty TV anchors as well), and when Vijay takes the bait and applies for a license, he makes the process as complicated as possible. There are a couple of problems with this. It’s barely credible that a big commercial production would be in danger shutting down because the star doesn’t have a license. It’s also difficult to believe an actor as popular as Vijay would ever get into a fight with someone on the level of Om. It’s a lose-lose proposition; more likely they’d get an assistant to throw money or influence at the irritant till it went away.
Here's the biggest problem: driver’s license tests aren’t cinematic. There are two big sequences in the film. The first has Vijay and Om sitting across from each other, surrounded by a breathless press corps, as the cop tries to stump the star with road safety questions. Each of Vijay’s surprisingly well-researched responses is accompanied by thudding music, as if something unbearably exciting is happening and not Hashmi and Kumar being drained of all vestiges of cool through the discussing of hand brakes. I hoped that the driving test would be more exciting, but director Raj Mehta and writer Rishabh Sharma have such faith in the inherent drama of a few sharp turns and reversing down a slope that they refuse to dress it up.
The film is initially honest about the entitlement and mania of movie fans. But it paints this as ‘love’—a sentimental gesture that robs the film of satirical bite. Vijay is the ideal of a Bollywood star, a family man, a hard worker, always willing to indulge his fans. It’s clear he and Om will end up seeing the good in each other—but by the time the film gets there it’s been a trying two-and-a-half hours. The honest version of Selfiee would end 30 minutes in. Vijay would send a driver to pick up the license. And Om would go back to his life, content in the knowledge that there's only one degree of separation between him and his idol.