There can be only so many things that one can do in the horror genre. Low camera angles, spooky background score, grey palette and a large rich flat that turns into a murder ville. Suparn Varma’s Aatma has all of these and yet falls short miserably in engaging and spooking the day lights out of you. At one hour forty minutes running time, the short length of the movie is the only thing good about it.
Like any recent Hindi horror flick in recent times worth its ashes, Aatma has an innocent looking kid at its core, being fought over for by her parents; mom Bipasha and dad Nawazuddin. The twist in the tale is that Nawazzuddin has returned from the dead to take his daughter with him. An abusive husband, he would torture his wife physically and threatens to take his daughter away with him when the mother decides to end the marriage. A freak accident later, he returns as the spirit in white (quite literally) to reclaim what he thinks is his. There is a mandatory mother of the lady, Shenaz, who looks like she walked out of the sets of Talaash straight into this one, a “baba” who does the havan, and a police officer trying to make sense of things for the audience.
Aatma doesn’t waste time in establishing a story; the mishaps begin from the very first scene. There is a sense of gloom about everything; the audience seems to have entered into a moment in a series of bad days for the mother daughter in their house. Which makes the beginning all the more promising and exciting- making one wonder how the pieces would fit in to the big picture. Sadly, the director seemed to be in some tearing hurry, and belies the promise almost immediately. Things move at a weird pace here on, with one set piece after another intended to scare you. They work in parts, thanks to some decent cinematography that adds a distinct class to the mundane quintessentiality of the genre. Yet the film as a whole doesn’t work at all, since the director fails to stitch all of these together into one wholesome film. The end product looks rushed through, hurried especially towards the climax, and totally disjointed.
With Nawazuddin and Bipasha in the cast, one also expects in the least a decent performance. Sadly, that too is not to be found aplenty in Aatma. Bipasha, now a veteran of the genre, looks hot, fit and perhaps the best she has in recent times. She puts in a spirited turn as well, giving her part whatever little she could. What belies her is the fact that for her glamorous de-glam look as a bettered housewife, she just doesn’t look like a mother let alone like someone in an abusive relationship. May be it is her image as a strong woman of today, and or the sad one dimensional writing, her character just does not take on any texture ending up very unconvincing.
Nawazuddin on the other hand, can act and that shows in the very little scope he is given in the film. For reasons unknown, he is utilised as a regular ghost in Hindi films is- appear occasionally mostly in shadows and laugh silly. In the few scenes that he is actually given a chance, he plays the diabolic husband with elan. Here too though he is let down by some really uninspired dialogues that seem bent of making the film spiral down to mediocrity.
Then there is the precocious child, Niya, played by Doyel- she goes from irritating hindi movie kid to an innocent being drawing you into her story to complete detached nonchalance. There are scenes where she really is staring at the walls around while the other actors are trying to act (and no she is not looking at her imaginary dad).
Aatma is clearly intended at redefining the genre with a soulful story other than just scream slash and prosthetics that we are so used to seeing. The intent though is never fully realized as the movie manages to only embellish existing clichés of horror films and do nothing more. Sever lack of originality is its biggest curse, a crime in fact considering the power house actors the film had. A definite disappointment this one.