Suparn Verma's Aatma comes across as an attempt to bring some credibility to the horror genre, writes Nishi Tiwari.
A steady stream of consistently mediocre fare over decades has conditioned Hindi film fans to expect the least from horror/thriller films.
Even today, when the art of storytelling in general is believed to be undergoing a radical change, the horror genre has steadfastly held on to its rusty template – dimly lit settings, actors with highly questionable acting chops, bad prosthetics, background score that assaults the senses more than it scares and, more importantly, criminally uninspired storylines.
Suparn Verma’a Aatma, a horror film about an overbearing father who comes back from the dead to claim ownership of his only daughter from his estranged wife, comes across as an attempt to bring some credibility to the genre.
The film opens with the melodious Aaja nindiya song and a shout-out to actor Kamal Rashid Khan (better known as the infamous KRK. People who are active on Twitter will connect the dots – KRK has been relentless in promoting the film on his Twitter account).
Bipasha Basu plays Maya Verma, a single mother who is fiercely protective of her daughter Nia (five-year-old Doyel Dhawan in her acting debut).
Smarting from the damages of an abusive marriage to the dangerously volatile Abhay (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), their subsequent divorce and a custody battle that she wins, Maya struggles to tell their only child that her father -- whom she adores more than anything in the world -- has died in a freak accident.
Nia, who has been told that her father is away on business and will be back in two months, is unaware of the emotional upheavals in her parents’ lives and enquires about her Papa’s impending return every chance she gets.
Soon enough, strange things start to happen around Nia. When asked who she talks to when there’s no one around, Nia claims that her father has come back and is always with her. One of her classmates who routinely bullies her and her stern teacher die in the most bizarre ways and Maya has nightmares in which her dead husband menacingly proclaims that he’s come back to take his daughter with him.
Noted actors -- Jaideep Ahlawat (of Gangs Of Wasseypur fame), Tilottama Shome and Shernaz Patel form the supporting cast of the film and do little more than sleep-walk through their performances.
While Tilottma ably portrays the stern yet compassionate class teacher in her brief role, Ahlawat plays an unremarkable, clueless cop who, instead of investigating the murder cases, takes up the task of convincing everybody that a supernatural force is involved in the killings.
Bipasha tries, with all her might, to deliver a restrained performance with little success. Nawaz, however, owns all the scenes he is in. The custody hearing scene stands out because of his very real and ominous outburst. Moreover, everything pretty much blends in the background when Nawaz holds court, which is not to say that his is a flawless performance.
His slightly stilted and awkward dialogue delivery in English hampers his performance and so do some badly-timed scowls.
Shot beautifully in natural light for the most part, the film offers some genuine scares and, in fits and starts, feeds off rampant human fears like claustrophobia, paranoia and fear of the unknown in general, but lacks the sense of mystery, the element of surprise that’s essential for films in this genre.
It’s not difficult to anticipate what’s going to happen next. I go in to watch Aatma with a nagging feeling that the trailer has unwittingly revealed the entire plot, “But surely, that can’t be it,” I reason with myself, only to be proved wrong in the end.
That said, Aatma does push the boundaries with some mildly grotesque scenes and better production values.