When my son was in Class 12, or PUC as it is known in some parts of the country, I’d regularly receive calls and messages from random numbers claiming to represent so-and-so college, and offering admission only for engineering, mind you. I’d always wonder where they got the numbers from. They were persistent and stopped only after you told them you were interested in an ‘arts’ seat, not even ‘commerce’.
After watching Madhimaaran’s GV Prakash Kumar-starrer Selfie, I was able to understand the ecosystem behind those calls and messages. The hard-hitting film does not set out to pontificate or speak about everything troubling the education system as a whole. Instead, it focuses on just one thing — the rigmarole of engineering admissions. The main subplots are the money made by the brokers, and the plight of students seduced by easy money made from unsuspecting parents seeking admission.
And the film manages to keep you riveted with just this, which is proof of the excellent writing and the research that went into it. The people of Pallavaram and Thindivanam are among those in the long list of thank-you credits, and not without reason. These localities, the narrow lanes, and the houses that look like they were built specifically for renting out to college students lend so much life to a film that is also about crushed dreams and forced engineering admissions. And, cinematographer Vishnu Rangasamy does a fine job to take you right to the scene of action, with some good work from editor S Elayaraja and art director AR Mohan.
The fights look like what they will look like when a college student is forced to defend himself — there’s little fluid grace, this is a fight for survival. Even during the pre-climax fight, stunt-in-charge Rambo Vimal maintains this style. Because, in today’s day and age, henchmen are more into tech and subtle threats than fistfights.
While every other film has spoken in jest about the deluge of engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu and the poor quality of teaching and the fact that engineers are unemployed, Selfie throws the spotlight on the dark side of this despondency — students turn to working for brokers to send more young kids to engineering college (or the lottery called a medical college seat), don’t clear their exams because they no longer have the inclination to study, and get used to a fast lifestyle and easy money.
All is well till a point, but what happens when a single transaction goes awry, and the entire house of cards comes tumbling down?
This is probably one of GV Prakash Kumar’s better outings on screen, akin to his lovely turn in Sasi’s Sivappu Manjal Pachai. As Kanal, the boy who is forced to study in Chennai, much against his wishes, and who strikes a lovely friendship with Naseer (a lovely Gunanidhi), and a romance with Madhavi (Varsha Bollamma, who shines in some scenes), before he does something that changes the trajectory of his life, Prakash becomes Kanal. He also composes the score, and while you’re happy the composer in him is back, you do miss his melodies.
Kanal gets a full arc — from the boy who hates his father (a sensitive Vagai Chandrasekhar) and keeps badgering and lying to him for money, he turns a new leaf only after his father assures him he has his back. Sometimes, that’s all that children need, not money, but parental faith.
It’s difficult to understand Varsha Bollamma’s Madhavi, who seems to care about Kanal in some scenes and blows cold in certain others. She does not think twice before disrespecting a teacher in whose house she’s heading for a romantic tryst with Kanal. She chastises him for the job he’s decided to take up, but happily introduces her friend who does the same thing and lives the good life. Why, you wonder. But, credit to the director for the way the couple’s intimacy is shown on screen — he just lets them be in their own happy world. The camera is non-intrusive and a bystander.
Gautham Vasudev Menon plays a baddie yet again on screen, this time as student-turned-broker Ravi Varma, the family man who looks all silent, suave and sophisticated, but has a terribly mean streak about him. At one level, the film is also about what greed does, and how everyone gets their comeuppance.
Selfie is also a reminder of how our old-time actors are having the time of their lives on screen — be it Vagai Chandrasekhar or Sangali Murugan, who plays Eswara Murthy, a businessman in the field of education, they convey so much with so little. Murugan’s hooded eyes are terrifying in their stillness.
If you’ve lived in Chennai and know of Sam Paul as the person who runs a chain of restaurants serving delicious food, in the film, as Kumaran, he also bites into his role with relish.
The film has a U/A certificate, and with reason. There’s a deeply triggering scene of a suicide, which comes without a warning or blurring of the image. Heard of copycat suicides, Mathi Maran?
If I had to pick fault with the film, I’d pick this, and the slightly rushed climax, where it seems like the team was in a hurry to end things because they’ve been on edge for a little over two hours.
Verdict: Selfie is worth a watch.
This Selfie review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.