Cast Sreenivasan, Sharbani Mukherjee, Jagathy Sreekumar
Often Malayalam cinema is firmly rooted in reality. There is little flab and hardly any pretension. Premlal's directorial debut, Athma Kadha, set in the lush, hilly Kerala countryside, is a tragic tale of Kochubaby (played with lovely conviction by Sreenivasan, but who else), who loses his sight in his early teens. His mother encourages him to be self-dependent. We see him reach out for his pot of gruel in what appears to be his first lessons in a world that has gone frighteningly dark.
Later, as a man, Kochubaby works in a candle factory where he meets Marykutty (Mukherjee) who is also visually impaired. They get married and have a daughter, Lillykutty (Shafna), who aspires to be a pilot. It is at this point that Premlal introduces the dramatic curve, laced with the darkest of misfortunes.
Even though a motley group of characters, for example, the colourful local priest (played splendidly by Sreekumar) - whose passion is arthouse films - try and light up the couple's existence Athma Kadha is depressing in some ways. Yes, the narrative tries hard to keep our attention focused on the indomitable, never-say-die spirit but, then, the canvas ultimately offers very little light. It's not always easy to find a streak of positive things in the middle of all this negativity. If only Premlal had balanced his story and screenplay with a bit of bright moments, Athma Kadha could have attracted a little more acclaim.
Admittedly, in defence, one must concede that it has some marvellous performances. Mukherjee mirrors the pathos of impending doom through an extraordinarily expressive face.