(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on March 24, 2013, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/horror-without-soul)
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bipasha Basu, Doyel Dhawan and others
Director: Suparn Verma
Rating: 1.5 stars
As one of those people who’re scared of the dark, I was apprehensive about Aatma. Director Suparn Verma had promised that the filmwould be a departure from the cheesy scream-and-scare loaded horror genre. However, except to perhaps make us slightly wary of our daughters, nieces, and cousins of a particular age, this film – like most other child possession stories – is unlikely to impact the audience terribly.
Granted, the cinematography (by Sophie Winqvist) is a class apart. And Verma’s intent in bringing sophistication to horror does peep through at times. But he’s unable to escape the clichés – an empty rocking chair, a telephone with an ominous ring, a tennis ball that bounces of its own accord, hazy reflections in the mirror, shifting shadows, thundershowers, and possession scenes.
The lovely texture of the imagery is at odds with the mundanity of the story. The premise is interesting, and told in an engaging flashback. We’re led into the story by a single mother who’s worried about breaking some awful news to her five-year old. The following scenes are disturbing, and – like all horror-movie kids – Doyel Dhawan does have enough cuteness to make her story poignant. Bipasha Basu uses her experience in the genre to her benefit – she’s learnt how to look angry and tormented. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, always an excellent actor, plays his part with a menacing viciousness that’s frightening in its intensity, and creepy in its self-righteousness.
But how can a film be truly chilling when an earnest police officer mumbles about having a bad feeling about the murder he’s investigating? When an exorcist pronounces that the dead can only be fought by the dead? When, despite the camera’s attempts to draw us into the paranormal, the staples of the genre keep us distanced?
Aatma lasts just over an hour and a half, but the script is unable to sustain itself even through this duration. The supporting cast is reduced to saying lines we’ve heard too often before to care. Though we’re largely spared the sudden scares that contrive to make us jump out of our seats, I found myself rather irritated by the film’s adherence to formula.
I’m not a fan of the paranormal genre, chiefly because of its lack of scope for innovation. Some may argue that the inherent dilemma in a child possession story – the parent’s love for the child in conflict with terror of the aatma – makes us empathise. But didn’t Omen milk that sentiment dry?
The Verdict: This film is one for the horror junkies.