Sometimes, it’s tempting to put your hands up in resignation, and stop analysing films like Seemaraja. Why even be annoyed by the romanticisation of nobility and aristocracy? Why get frustrated by the objectification of women? You also have to wonder: Are the makers oblivious to these problems? Or more alarmingly, do they perhaps care, and yet wilfully — in the interest of furthering stardom — include them as necessities? Director Ponram clearly seems to operate with a fair sense of conviction on what makes successful rural films. He has two in his kitty already. If we are indeed going to be bombarded with some of these overused, problematic ideas over and over again, well then, it may not be such a futile exercise to problematise these films over and over again.
So, where do we begin? Seemaraja’s inexplicable pride for its eponymous protagonist’s lineage is a good place to begin from. Seemaraja (Sivakarthikeyan) is the successor of a royal family, and everybody reverentially calls him ‘Raja’. A passing scene establishes that he is progressive enough to dislike people who bow to him, but not so progressive that he will reject their sycophancy. This is well in keeping with his inconsistent behaviour, which we will delve into a little later. The villain — who hails from a rival village called Singampatti — is a butcher called ‘Karikadai’ Kannan, who, with the help of his devious wife (Simran), has plotted his way into wealth and power. Towards the end, when Seemaraja looks to put him in his place, it’s rather revealing that he chooses to insult him about his former line of work. “Karikadai kannaa,” he taunts. It may not have made me so uncomfortable had this idea — the butcher vs royalty — not been a running theme in the film. One of Kannan’s aides points out more than once that no matter what he does, he will never be able to wrest the title of ‘Raja’ from Seemaraja. This unhealthy adoration of bloodline is discomfiting, and I almost felt empathetic for Kannan.
Cast: Sivakarthikeyan, Samantha, Soori, Simran
Seemaraja also champions a familiar evil in Tamil cinema: Objectification of women. Films like Seemaraja don’t even care to make it hard to levy these accusations. For a large part of the film, Selvi (Samantha) is less a woman, and more an object Seemaraja wishes to attain. It’s evident when she, Seemaraja’s object of desire, is referred to by the words ‘kattai’ and ‘kaththi’. Meanwhile, his friend, Kanakku (Soori, who’s rarely funny), is polygamous, and has three wives he calls Jil, Jung, and Juk because he finds their real names to be too complicated. These three women are so unattractive apparently that the noble Seemaraja comments, “Un moonu pondaatiya Telex-ay paaka maataan.” Telex is one of his two horses. Eventually, Kanakku gets a fourth wife too, and charmingly names her Jajak because Jak is already taken, remember? Seemaraja is also the sort of film in which a fat woman comes running and Imman utilises an elephant’s trumpeting as BGM in a bid to get us laughing. The scene’s as funny as a burning orphanage.
Sivakarthikeyan has been questioned about his views on stalking, and I imagine these questions will continue after this film — even if it’s not as horrible as in Remo. He still manages to say, “Pasanga Phoenix paravai madhiri. Thirumba thirumba vandhutte iruppom.” It is quite possible that director Ponram could defend the film by pointing out how they have empowered Selvi by portraying her as a PT teacher, and showing her train in silambam. You have to ask though — is she really empowered if her response to being threatened by a bunch of men is to wear that familiar look of innocent bewilderment, as our hero arrives just in time to rescue her? The one time she uses her skills — and by that time, you’re positively begging her to — she uses it against another woman. Because women must fight only women? While on the topic of women, I’m not sure what Simran, playing a mean woman called Kaleeshwari, saw in this film, and in her own character. Her major contribution is to scowl every now and then, and exclaim, “Thu theri!”
Seemaraja himself is a rather conflicted character, it seems. He talks of this incredible connection he has with his horses, Alex and Telex, and announces his arrival into this film by riding a chariot — all of which, when you think about his jameen lineage, is rather reminiscent of Muthu. Yet, he has no hesitation in forcing his horses through wooden gates, so he can make a dashing entry with his chariot. Later, he is easily coaxed into giving away these horses.
Seemaraja talks of his loving dog, and yet, he happily leads it into danger for a juvenile idea. Just before he meets Selvi, he says, “Kolusa paathu ponavan-laam loosa thiriyaraan.” Yet, barely a second later, he ogles at her and begins pursuing her. Somewhere in the beginning, after rescuing a bunch of boys from getting skinned — you read that right — he self-righteously talks about how it was his ancestors who came up with the idea of skinning and how they went on to realise the folly of the practice. Yet, as he walks away, he bafflingly warns, “Thola urichiduven.”
This 150-minute-long film made for a frustrating experience, and not even the hyped period portions that show Sivakarthikeyan channeling his inner Baahubali, gave a breather. Perhaps none of this will matter; perhaps Seemaraja will, as planned, bring in all the family audiences; perhaps these films that aim to cement stardom will continue to get made… In that case, these pieces will continue to get written. A line from The Joker in The Dark Knight acts as an accurate summary: “You and I are destined to do this forever.”
This review 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.