Sema: A comedy that’s largely offensive, occasionally funny

When a film possesses a title as generically laudatory as Sema, it’s impossible not to keep asking yourself which aspect of the film the makers were thinking of when they titled the film so. Were they perhaps thinking about how offensive the film is to dark-skinned people? A girl our hero, Kuzhanthai (GV Prakash), is supposed to find repulsive is dark-skinned and named Karunkuzhali. In truth, the actual actor is very decent-looking, but that doesn’t stop Yogi Babu, playing Kuzhanthai’s friend, from referencing ‘aduppu kari’ when talking about her appearance. Later, when dissing the entire family, he calls them, ‘Karichetti family’. Sema colorist.

Or perhaps they were thinking of how the film romanticises offensive ideas, like, for instance, promoting stalking as a preferred form of courtship. Kuzhanthai is shown to be constantly on the heels of a girl he has been apparently pestering for almost three years — a number he boasts about when demanding her hand in marriage. Even his mother, at this point, asks the girl to acknowledge all the ‘effort’ he has put in. In another scene, when the girl expresses irritation and says she only feels ‘veruppu’ for him, Kuzhanthai replies, “Veruppu thaane? Aruvaruppu illala? Appo no problem.” Another gem from him is when he says, “Boomi suthinadha vida, pasanga ponnungala jaasthi suthirkaanga.” Sema harassment.

Or perhaps they were thinking about how Kuzhanthai and his friend constantly objectify women in the name of comedy. Kuzhanthai is a vegetable vendor, and the main comedic use of his profession is in him ogling at women and suggestively shouting the names of various fruits and vegetables including thakkaali, karuvaadu, orange, and wait for it, malgova. His friend quips, “Aunty na udane, malgova nu solliduviye.” This is a U-certified film, by the way. In another scene, a Marwari girl is shown walking by our hero and friend, and they comment, “Saettu ku yen ivlo makeup?” Sema objectification.

Or perhaps they were thinking about all the inconsistencies in the story. One example is Kuzhanthai’s mother, Sujatha Sivakumar, who is prone to attempting suicides, every time she gets hurt or offended. When she tries to market her son as a good catch for the girl he’s been harassing for years, the latter, quite appropriately, calls her a ‘broker’. Kuzhanthai’s mother immediately does what she does best: try to commit suicide. Nobody, through the film, seems to think this is problematic, and in any case, this angle gets forgotten eventually. Sema neglect.

Or perhaps, and this, I think, is the most likely. They were likely trying to, with the title, estimate how funny the film is. Which, I’m afraid, isn’t a whole lot. Some redemption in the form of humour comes at the very end, when the parents of Magizhini (suitably named given how much of what actor Arthana Binu is expected to do, is smile radiantly) — Mansoor Ali Khan and Kovai Sarala — get a decently long, funny stretch. Perhaps if the whole film were as funny, the title may have been relevant. In its present version, the title is more a qualifier of the horrible ideas the film peddles than its humour. Sema misleading.

This column was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

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