Director: Ashok Thiagarajan
Cast: Abhi Saravanan, Aadukalam Naren, Venba
The apocryphal story of Casabianca is also the story of Maayanadhi. Right at the beginning of the film, Anbarasan (Aadukalam Naren), a widower, is narrating it to his 17-year old daughter Kausalya (Venba). In the story, Casabianca is instructed by his father to stay at a particular spot on a burning ship until he returns. Casabianca doesn’t move, and perishes at that very spot, without realising that his father was long dead. This story was a part of elementary school curriculum in 19th Century Britain for the moral it suggested, and until half a century ago, Casabianca was held up as an epitome of adherence to the wishes of his parents.
In Maayanadhi, Kausalya is a negative example of Casabianca, because she does transgress her father’s wishes by eloping with her boyfriend, and then pays a terrible price for it. Ashok Thiagarajan tries to resurrect the dubious ideal of Casabianca through Kausalya, without much effect.
Proposing a certain moral standard, even if it is problematic, is okay when the writing is engaging, and the hidden hand of the writer manipulating characters and events is not visible. But here, we are arm-twisted into buying into the moral. For instance, Kausalya is shown to be an intelligent and thoughtful person, who appreciates what her father has done for her. She is also capable of taking care of herself. When threatened by a classmate that he would put out her morphed pictured on the Internet if she didn’t love him, she hits back saying she’d do the same. Anbarasan is shown to be an enlightened and generous father. Kausalya even has casual conversations with him about boys. When Senthil (Abhi Saravanan) saves her from a splash of acid by intercepting its path with his auto, she immediately falls for him. Before we know that they’re even interested in each other, we are shown that they are considering eloping. Why is saving someone from danger the definite way to their heart in our films? Why not have the two get to know each other before they think of getting married? Why force it with an acid attack?
After they fall in love, Senthil and Kausalya have anxieties and minor conflicts that lead them to believe that eloping is their best bet. For the moral of the story to work, at least emotionally, we needed to be shown that the two people are indeed making serious mistakes in their thinking, that they deserve to be punished. But, except for a few dialogues, we don’t really know what they’re thinking. The event that moves Kausalya to elope is unconvincing, and insults the intelligence of both Kausalya and the viewers. When an otherwise reasonable person changes her view, we want to see a plausible reason for it, something better that blaming it on ‘teenage’.
For all its modern veneer and rejection of customary ceremonies associated with puberty and early marriage, the core of the film is regressive, because it artlessly manipulates its events to suggest that terrible consequences await teenagers who go against the wishes of their parents. That might be true in specific situations, but the film vociferously argues for obedience over discretion. There is no debate, no exploration of alternative viewpoints. It is a moral science lesson. Unless you believe that the best comparison for being in love is being stranded on a burning ship, Casabianca is not necessarily a good role model for Kausalya.