The talented Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s strange choice of a lead role in Hindi cinema
Aatma is soul cinema. A mere ghost movie is passe and so the fine actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Abhay, deceased. Bipasha Basu plays Maya, animate—and divorced from him. Before his sudden demise, Abhay had expressed unhappiness with the divorce proceedings, particularly the granting of custody of his daughter Niya to Maya.
To correct this perceived unfairness, Abhay’s aatma turns up to take possession of little Niya. Needless to say, this is in complete violation of court orders. The judge had granted him visiting rights to his daughter for only an hour every weekend, and here he is, almost every day, at all odd hours, talking to Niya (Doyel Dhawan), spoiling her silly and telling her what a bad mummy she has.
Presumably, the internal logic of director Supam Verma’s narrative is to show how the divorce of parents tears kids apart, and how sometimes one or both parents use their children in devious ways to settle scores. This could have been an interesting theme, if developed reasonably.
But the film doesn’t just stop at the aatma moving furniture around and communicating with Niya on video and telephone. There is a long queue of ‘enemies’ waiting to be bumped off, including a classmate who teases Niya, a strict teacher, a child counsellor, and so on. It has to be said, however, with some trepidation, that when the aatma finally does away with his former mother-in-law (Shernaz Patel), there is an unhealthy glee with which the deed is done. No doubt there is a message here for us all.
Eventually, the evil aatma ends up caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. In order to gain eternal custody of his daughter, he will have to devise a way to bring her to the after-life. But by this time the film is spinning out of orbit and has lost all bearing of sense. A movie that starts off with a few genuine moments of fright ends up as a laughably bad ghost story.