Premlal's directorial debut 'Athmakatha' reinstates your faith in good cinema. Narrating an extremely moving tale of a dad - daughter duo, Premlal displays a remarkable mellowness in his direction that very few debutantes possess.
Kochubaby (Sreenivasan) in 'Aathmakatha' had turned blind when he was thirteen. The world that went dark all on a sudden around him doesn't manage to drain the light out of his mind. Life still doesn't get any easier and left alone with a daughter Lilykutty (Shafna) who hopes to be a pilot some day, he delights even more in the unseen colors. Lily gets all set for the board exams, and for the first time in her life, the letters on her answer sheet go blurred.
There is no beating the positivism that abounds in 'Athmakatha'. Kochubaby talks of his mother who had refused to feed him ever since he turned blind. He remembers with gratitude how he had thus learned to fend for himself. Precise computations form a part of his life. We never get to see the mother on screen, and this woman who remains behind the curtains speaks volumes of the optimism that this film is all about.
Baby's dad gets so pleased with him one fine day, that he drops a few colored candies into his open palms. Those colours are among the last that Baby gets to see in his life, and he remembers them with fondness. When he falls in love with Marykutty, (Sharbani Mukherjee) a blind colleague in the candle factory, he knows he cannot bank on the shades around him to woo her. When Mary opens up her candle mould in the morning, she finds pressed inside, a handful of Chembakam flowers.
Lilykutty learns that life doesn't always follow predetermined paths, when the doctor reveals the bad news. Sooner or later she would lose her eyes as well. In one of the most poignant scenes in the film, the girl refuses to go to sleep, lest she gets to see a black world, when she opens her eyes in the morning. After much persuasion she agrees to lie down but begs her dad to leave the lights on.
What follows is a harrowing wait for the colorful universe around her to gradually shed all its hues and disappear into darkness. Her father decides its time he led her along the paths that he had already trodden, and brings along a Braille handbook. Lily though stares frantically at a red rose that turns grey and in a bout of sadness decides to end it all.
There are several minor characters in the film that further disseminate the goodness inherent in men. The local priest (Jagathy) is one such man; a lover of classic world films and an ardent admirer of Kurosawa. He even lets Kochubaby censor the films before screening it for the young brothers in the seminary. Baby listens for suspicious noises on screen before deciding on its suitability.
At times, the film even feels like a metaphor to Malayalam cinema and seems to suggest that there is bound to be light at the end of the tunnel. This film comes along at the right time, when the future looks bleak and discontent prevails.
Sreenivasan does a good job of being the blind man who keeps the flame burning within despite all the odds, but I should admit I wished I saw someone else in his role. The reason being that this is a role that demands even much more from the actor. On the other hand, Shafna with a mind boggling performance lives as Lilykutty, and confidently makes it to the list of the top performers of the year. This actress is a true delight to watch, and with the right kind of roles, should very easily emerge as one of the best ones we have had in recent times. Sharbani in a short but very sweet role, excels as well.
Premlal's ability to articulate the minute nuances of the story is quite incredible. Thus 'Athmakatha' turns out to be a rich and imaginative tribute to the indomitable human spirit that strives and eventually survives.