by Ravina Rawal
Aatma is a horror, alright. Just not in the way director Suparn Verma could have intended. The movie’s trailers and promos had us fooled into thinking maybe there was a chance Bollywood had finally found a way to terrify its audience, using subtlety and psychological tricks to send a chill down our spines, instead of having to resort to the gore and in-your-face boo formula.
Except, Verma’s way doesn’t work either. He hasn’t pushed the boundaries of this genre enough, nor thrown anything at us that we haven’t seen before. If we are sitting at edge of our seats, it isn’t for the reason he’d like us to be.
Six-year-old Nia (Doyel Dhawan) has an imaginary friend. They talk and play together all day; sometimes they even sneak out at night for little walks. This deeply worries her mother Maya (Bipasha Basu), who soon realises that her daughter thinks she’s talking to her dead father Abhay (Nawazuddin Siddiqui).
A violent, abusive husband—though doting father—when he was alive, Abhay resents Maya for getting custody of their daughter when she finally files for divorce. Not long after, Abhay dies in an unrelated car accident. But that’s not the last anyone sees of him, far from it.
Angry with his ex-wife for having snatched Nia away from him, his disturbed ghost makes his first contact with his daughter, who is initially the only one who can see and hear him. He tells her he’s here to take her with him to a place where they can finally be together again without anyone coming between them.
Maya does everything she can to distract her daughter from what she hopes are just the hallucinations of a child who misses her father deeply. A trip out of town is suggested by Nia’s psychologist, and seems like a good idea. Except that while they are away is when Maya first comes face to face with Abhay’s ghost herself, and now she’s petrified. (The audience on the other hand, is still not.)
She does everything she can to protect Nia from the torment of her late ex-husband’s ghost, but he consistently finds ways to stick around regardless. As one predictable scene after another unfolds — and trust me, this is no spoiler — everyone who bothers his daughter, or speaks ill of him is killed in mysterious ways. In case you were wondering, this gets pretty tiresome pretty quickly.
Then comes the exorcist/pundit, who tells Maya and her mother, who lives with them, that Abhay’s ghost is growing stronger every day and no living person can kill/get rid of him; only the dead. This coupled with the fact that basically the parents — one living, one dead — are still fighting over their child could have made for an interesting story, filled with uncomfortable, even scary moments. Instead, like most other attempts at this genre by the industry, Aatma too gives us plenty of unintentional comedic scenes, and has the audience in splits in the second half.
For some inexplicable reason, a majority of the scenes open with Bipasha’s back to us. When she turns around, eight times out of 10, she’s wearing a slinky negligee that makes fans in the audience hoot and whistle. Then there are the bits that are meant to scare your socks off… I mean, she’s working late in the office and the phone! is! ringing! When she finally answers it, we hear a weird disturbance that sounds like a series of farts, which means that by the time those sounds grow into an intelligible dialogue, the audience can no longer hear it over their laughter. And then there’s that little girl’s room. If I had to sleep in there every night, I’d be hallucinating like I was on magic mushrooms too. The wallpaper sports a crowded migraine-inducing floral pattern, the bed has way too many contrasting stuffed toys sitting on it, and there’s a hideous floor to almost-ceiling tall stuffed panda that has a TV embedded in its stomach area. Come to think of it, this may be the scariest part of the movie — they should have shot more scenes in here.
A disappointing film overall, quite missable. The only silver lining here perhaps is that the movie’s runtime is under 100 minutes.