If lighting and production design could pass off for spirits, this one would have haunted us for a long time, but, unfortunately, cinema is about more than just mastering colour schemes. Here everything boils down to writing, and director Suparn Verma disappoints one more time. We know his technical acumen from the time he mounted Ek Khiladi Ek Hasina and Acid Factory with borrowed ideas. Here he has tried to do something original — a custody case where the father (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) comes from the ‘other world’ to seek control of his daughter (Doyel Dhawan impresses as she is unlike those ‘rehearsed’ kids who dot films and advertisements). Unfortunately, Verma makes it a case of black and white where the father is all back — both in life and after death — and the mother (Bipasha Basu), pristine.

The idea of making a 95-minute film is laudable, but not at the expense of emotional heft. Here Verma fails to establish the supposed deep connection between the father and the daughter and the sudden breakdown of relationship between the father and the mother. And more importantly, Verma doesn’t really answer why the ‘spirited’ father doesn’t try the easiest route of killing the mother to take his daughter along. He doesn’t share with us how he manipulates his daughter against her mother either. As the pundits take over, the drama becomes too flimsy for the dread of revenge or the feeling of loss to take over. One would have really loved to see the mother with a few flaws to hide — after all she is named Maya — and the father with a few redeeming features that force him to return to this world.

No doubt the film provides a couple of edgy moments, courtesy imaginative cinematography by Sophie Winqvist and the use of atmospherics instead of distorted faces and shrieking, but the methods Verma employs to manufacture horror are age-old and hardly startling — yes, the mirror image gathers its own life and so does the rocking chair... You can very well guess whose time is over. Alas! The melancholy in the air seldom percolates the surface.

Bipasha gets a chance to act and she is still learning. Nawaz gets little screen time to establish the father’s concerns but in the one scene that he gets to establish his menace value, he proves his mettle.

The two are surrounded by a competent support cast — Shernaz Patel, Shiv Subramanium, Jaideep Ahlawat and Mohan Kapoor — but the script doesn’t do justice to their talent.

The gifted Jaideep, as the police officer who apprehends the role of a spirit in murders even before the godman comes into play but does nothing about it, remains a curious cardboard.

Aatma

Genre: Horror

Director: Suparn Verma

Cast: Bipasha Basu, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Doyel Dhawan, Shernaz Patel, Darshan Zariwala, Jaideep Ahlawat

Storyline: A father seeks custody of his daughter after his death

Bottomline: It is definitely better than what Bollywood has been delivering in the genre of late, but scratch a little and this Aatma is all air!