One thing that strikes about ‘Aatma‘ (and actually stays largely consistent) is that it doesn’t rely upon clichés (for most of it’s times) to keep its narrative engaging. This means that props like doors, windows, bulbs, candles, elevators or more are done away with by director Suparn Verma. Good, because all of this and more has been done to death by dozens of horror movies in the past. After all, for how long can audience be expected to stay engaged with long drawn shots of a woman walking in the corridors and the furniture in the house conspiring to scare all involved, whether those behind or on the scene.
This means that while the stage is set in the first 10 minutes of the movie itself (thankfully there are no tangents thrown here and there for character establishment), you known that as a single mother (Bipasha Basu) who has just survived an abusive relationship would see her husband (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) return from the dead as an ‘aatma’. With the promos pretty much making it quite clear that he wants his daughter (Doyel Dhawan) back into a ‘doosri dunia’, you are sure that Bipasha won’t allow that to happen. How she manages to succeed by doing something that only a mother can forms the film’s crux.
This is where one does feel that with some more unexpected twists and turns in the film along with some major surprises in the offering, ‘Aatma’ could perhaps have gone to the next level and turned out to be a truly different experience. Reason being that with a psychological thriller aspect to it, ‘Aatma’ could well have traversed further boundaries and played around with the mind of a viewer. In this case though, the engagement is there but the kind of tension that could have played on a viewer’s mind is pretty limited. You are glued to the proceedings but heart stopping moments are far and few.
So while the beginning portions of the film do hint of ‘Bhoot Returns’ (which was again about a girl child who could see an ‘aatma’ with the mother – Manisha Koirala – terrified of what was happening to her), the film takes its own course after the interval point. Instead of the focus being on the girl being possessed, there are various tangents thrown in as well, most interestingly being Nawaz’s chilling presence that indeed makes you wonder what he would do next.
This can be evidenced in some of the very well written scenes that appear in first as well as second half of the film. (Spoilers ahead) Class teacher’s encounter in the rest room, scene in the kitchen where knives start flying around, a witch warning Bipasha about Nawaz’s return, the point where Doyel stands on the edge of the parapet, the horrifying moment where Bipasha’s friend is killed, Shernaz Patel’s (playing Bipasha’s mother) scene at the parking lot and most interestingly (and original too!), the culmination to Darshan Jariwala’s episode are all done well. Also, a special mention to the VFX which is seamless here!
However, and as mentioned earlier, it is the edge of the seat moments and most importantly, the scare quotient, is what one feels could have been a tad stronger. So while the film stays away from the clichés, which means loud background score and the elements generally associated with a ‘bhatakti aatma’ are out, one does feel that in an attempt to keep the film crisp and short, the kind of gradual tension build up at points could have made ‘Aatma’ an all the more engaging affair. Moreover, the film’s culmination, though interestingly thought through, is way too quick as well. An extended treatment could have helped.
The film does score on certain key points. First and foremost, Suparn brings to fore a tale that is told a tad differently. Secondly, he is supported by some good performances. Bipasha is the lifeline of the film and she plays her part very well, while conveying the pathos of a mother who would cover any distance to safeguard her daughter. Doyel is good and in an extended screen part, she forms a good connect with the audience. Nawaz has limited screen-time but his presence is thoroughly felt. He is particularly brilliant in the scene at the judge’s office. Jaideep Ahlawat as a cop does well in his part which has limited scope.
Overall, Suparn does well to bring a screenplay which can at least be termed as different. Of course some standard elements like a character possessed, presence of a medium, a cop on the hunt, a bunch of friends not quite willing to believe the ghostly tales, a series of characters meeting a chilling death and more are peppered into this crisp 90 minutes affair which, in it’s second half, has a lot more meat to offer. No pun intended. Also, to Suparn’s credit, he at least tries to project these scenes differently on screen, despite predictability hovering large.
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