Stylistically speaking, writer-director Suparn Verma’s paranormal thriller Aatma is anything but conventional. But in terms of substance, it is in the firm grip of the ghoul of the horror genre’s intrinsic limitations.
A dead dad, who was once an abusive husband, returns from the world yonder to lay claims to his angelic six-year-old daughter, and the harried mother fights tooth and nail to protect the girl from harm. That, in a nutshell, is what Aatma is about.
Trouble is that the film isn’t half as scary as it is meant to be. With the screenplay placing all the key cards on the table upfront, the possibility of genuine shocks and surprises are taken out of the equation.
The disgruntled aatma of the title – played by a suitably nonchalant Nawazuddin Siddiqui – turns into a ruthless serial killer, bumping off anybody who threatens to come between him and his daughter.
Aatma looks and feels very different from a run-of-the-mill Bollywood horror flick, thanks to the atypical camerawork and lighting by DoP Sophie Winqvist. If only it had a storyline that match the innate visual energy of the film.
The director resorts to familiar tropes to generate fear. The dialogue, too, tend to get stilted as an effort is made to explicate the strange occurrences around the household.
Inexplicable reflections in the mirror, a rocking chair that sways under an invisible weight, telephones that begin to ring without a warning, a rubber ball that bounces of its own accord and suchlike may suggest the presence of the unknown but do not serve the purpose of sending shivers down the spine.
Apart from the high-quality cinematography, the acting all around is the highlight of the film. Bipasha Basu, Bollywood’s jaded queen of horror movies, makes the most of the limited opportunities that the script offers.
Nawazuddin, too, has little to do except smirk eerily from the shadows. It is a cakewalk for him. Debutante Doyel Dhawan is a promising child star.
The competent supporting cast – it has actors of the quality of Shernaz Patel, Tilottama Shome, Jaideep Ahlawat and Darshan Jariwala – does not have a ghost of a chance of saving this Aatma from doom.
TSI Five-O : Promising premise lost in a messy haze