Cast: Gautham Vasudev Menon, G.V. Prakash Kumar, Varsha Bollamma
Director: Mathi Maran
Selfie is a debutant film of Mathi Maran. This film in terms of its subject is very simple. It talks about how the whole role of capitation fees and donations and brokers in higher education systems have really ruined all perspectives on good education in India. So the film doesn't focus on education but goes into the world of people who sell – they sell seats, they sell professors, they sell things. And therefore it's all about big bosses and brokers and things like that.
Into this field comes the primary character played by G.V. Prakash, Kanal and he is somehow trying to make a name for himself, in short, that's it. The problem is that this is a subject which we have seen and heard and discussed in our own lives multiple times. We all know what happens in colleges and how the various levels of corruption happen at these higher levels.
The film does not do any kind of research into which particular college and what kind of things. But it just goes into this very murky, scandalous area – shameful, sinful, criminal activity of charging innocent students beyond their scope to repay or payback. So that is in fact as far as the subject is concerned. Now let me go into how Mathi Maran attempts a treatment of this.
He follows the typical Latin American style where you have everybody in the film as all evil characters, tough characters, what I call a 'toxic cinema.' Every level of the film is just carbon dioxide. There is little oxygen in the film. Even the two women characters are highly toxic. One of the heroine's father is also part of this racket. And you feel oh my god a world like this exists in which there is no 'a normal character'.
Fair enough, I have no argument. After all, that is the formal style, the toxic cinema or what we call the cinema of disgust. But in this, what happens is very interesting. Whereas directors like Nalan, Thiagarajan Kumararaja, Mysskin or, Vetrimaaran himself (who mentored Mathi Maran) had a certain formal approach to cinema. You know, they would shoot it in a certain way, they would have certain colour schemes, they would use certain kinds of music tracks and they would use certain kinds of actors in their works to differentiate that 'this is filmmaking and that is the subject.'
So there is a nice distinction that happens. Mathi Maran doesn't do that. He immerses himself into this. He enters into this quicksand of all these toxic characters. And so it's for me, at one level the form and content seem to be completely in unison with each other.
He is struggling with his characters, he's struggling with the storytelling. In the same way as his characters are struggling to tell the story. You see, that is so fascinating. To see the director and the writer himself and the actors, they're all in the same pool. So the film what happens is, in terms of treatment, relies heavily on talk-talk-talk-talk-talk. And this dubbing all the time. You know, there are monologues and there are overlapping voices and everything happens at the talking level.
I think what happens is after some time a filmmaker feels scared, "Oh my god, are the audience going to miss this out? Are they going to miss that out? Let me say it here, let me say it there." The film is full of talk-talk-talk, giving actually very little time for people to actually emote and see themselves on the screen. So that is where the treatment of a toxic cinema goes so deeply involved and Mathi Maran is deeply into it. Now if you go back to the influences and if you see how other cinemas across the world have also made such films.
So if you see some of the works like Goodfellas or Sin City or you see Amores Perros, all these Latin American cinema, you will feel are filled with negative characters, filled with people who have no hopes, no desires and in fact they are so masculine, the women have just no space in these films. You know, so it's very full of machismo and you feel sad that what kind of a world is this in which women have absolutely no space at all?
However, the wonderful part of this film, which I must really hats off, is that I have always been crying that Indian cinema has had very little diversity, you know, it's all so Hindu-Hindu-Hindu-Hindu, it's all them. And there are no representations of other communities. In this film, there is Nazir, a wonderful character, who comes from the beginning, a boy who goes through serious remorse, he's part of this racket and he commits suicide.
The brilliant part of the film is that his mother is the only ray of hope in the film. A Muslim nurse woman is the only ray of hope and I feel this is so important to all filmmakers that somewhere they should open their eyes and realize that India is not one community. It's one big national community with so many many diversity and if we can watch this diversity, it will be terrific.
G.V. Prakash plays Kanal, the primary character, and he's also the music director of the film. One song that he has composed in this film called 'Imaikkariye', is for me one of the finest pieces of music I have heard in a long time, especially because of the composition written by Arivu. Arivu's lyrics are beautiful, touching and tender. Inside this very toxic film, here is a song that is very beautifully scored and written and I sincerely recommend that you all watch it.
So in conclusion what could I say? That this is a wonderful work by a debutant. It's not a classy work, it's not going to attract large numbers of family audiences. But then the fact that somebody sticks his neck out to say "let us talk about the toxic world outside" is itself for me quite creditable.
Of course, the film has tremendous lag. For example, I would say that the biggest problem in the film is that they don't know how to end this film. And how do they end it? They quickly say make a statement to the press. So the film ends with a television statement on how capitation fee is bad, how this is bad and you get the message then.
I feel, in a so-called toxic film, you should not have a message. You should not end it by saying that this can be solved if that can be done. No. It begins on the premise that the world is toxic and it shall remain toxic unless we, the viewers, change and I think that is most important.