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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Victoria-Ek Rahasya, Review: The Untold Tale of Victoria Hotel

Victoria-Ek Rahasya, Review: The Untold Tale of Victoria Hotel

Any film-maker venturing into the spirit world has the following things to keep in mind: 1. Is he going to endorse the existence of spirits/ghosts? 2. Is he going to give the audience genuine scares, or jump scares/hallucinations? 3. How convincingly is he going to explain the goings-on in the climax? Marathi-English film Victoria-Ek Rahasya (Victoria, A Secret) leaves the first clause vague, goes halfway down the jump scare/hallucination track and fails to explain some key happenings in the climax. No wonder a slick and polished film, shot in the wonderful locales of Scotland, leaves us unsatisfied. 

Ankita and Siddharth arrive at Hotel Victoria, Edinburgh, for a much-needed vacation. Siddharth’s uncle, Adhiraaj, owns the hotel, and his father has contacted him to inform him about the couple’s arrival. He comes to pick them up and take them in his car to the expansive hotel, which is up for sale, and has no other guests staying there. (Could it be otherwise?) He shares with them that the hotel is unlucky and caused the death of both his grandfather and father, and that no buyers are coming forth to bid for it.

They are told to keep off a section of the hotel, which is private and meant only for the staff. Ankita and Siddharth quickly realise that the creepy and moody owner, Adhiraaj, has more than a few secrets he is trying to hide, and Ankita can't help but sense another, sinister presence inside the old hotel. Is there a vengeful spirit wandering in the hotel, or is it all in Ankita’s head? Adhiraaj says that his wife died in a car drowning accident recently. Or, did she?

Pooling the resources of three writers, Victoria credits its story to Omkar Gokhale and Jeet Ashok. Screenplay is by Virajas Kulkarni, while the dialogues have been contributed by Omkar Gokhale and Virajas Kulkarni. Virajas and Jeet are the directors too. Story-wise, there was the germ of a plot and basing it in an old, deserted, large Scottish mansion hotel was a good idea. But the screenplay needed to provide answers to obvious questions that arise in a viewer’s mind. Where was the staff of the hotel? They are never shown. Why agree to hosting strangers from India in your hotel if you have massive secrets to hide? Why not make any excuse and avoid the situation? Why leave incriminating papers covered by a white cloth rather than keeping them under lock and key? Was Adhiraaj cooking, serving and cleaning by himself? Hardly likely. How did a non-Maharashtrian, living in Scotland, pick-up fluent Marathi? If somebody was murdered, what happened to the corpse and what did the relatives and friends of the deceased do to investigate the killing? How did Adhiraaj land-up in the same city where Ankita and Siddharth have moved, and come face to face with them? Who stole the couple’s passports and money, from their locked hotel room, how and why? These and more questions remain unanswered, and that can be very disappointing to a viewer. Dialogue is good, limiting itself to the scenes, and does not drag just in order to get a punch or a clap-trap line in.

A lot of unnecessary posturing dots the film, with scenes that go nowhere. The one that do have the supernatural touch, like the self-rocking chair and the self-jumping bed. What is not clear is whether the ghost, if it exists, is trying to scare Ankita or win her sympathy. Appears more like the latter, which is incongruous with the theme of the film. Almost entirely centred around the three main characters, the film fails to explain in detail why is a clinical psychologist like Ankita suffering from panic attacks and anxiety, and if Sidhharth is the cause of her condition, is a holiday with Sidhharth the best remedy for her recovery? There are several scenes where you expect an apparition or violence of some kind, like when Siddharth stops the car suddenly off the highway, when they are escaping from Victoria Hotel, but nothing ever happens. Leaving Ankita to do the sleuthing is rather odd, given her mental condition. Most of the scenes between Ankita and Sidhharth are well played out, though the Truth or Dare game, and the rocking chair, are staple Hollywood fare. Revealing more would detract from the unravelling of the mystery.

Sonalee makes a decent Ankita, fighting her way out of anxiety, panic attacks and hallucinations. In the climax, however, she is given too much to do, which is out of character. Aashay Kulkarni is suitably cast, though he looks a bit younger than Sonalee. There is an exuberance in his persona that suits the role, and the serious mode it acquires in the latter scenes comes across well too. Co-producer Pushkar Jog chooses to play Adhiraaj, who appears both confused and confusing, in turns. He seems to pause at almost every comment and then agree to whatever is being suggested or discussed. His poker-faced exterior is poker-faced for good reason. All characters speak good English, whenever it is interspersed with their Marathi. Names of the rest of the cast were not available. They include Adhiraaj’s late wife (in flashback), Julia Higgins, a former employee of the hotel, two garbage bin clearers, and one character whose identity is key to the suspense.

Cinematography by Sopaan Purandare makes good use of drones and odd angles, perhaps to a fault, especially while exploring the hotel, even dwelling on the ceiling on an extreme low angle slow movement shot. If only so many jump scares were shot, or only so many VFX incorporated, what else can an editor do? Editor Bhushan Sahasrabudhe does just what is needed and no more, limiting the scares to 4-5 frame shots, and lets the pace languidly move on to 108 minutes. VFX are used sparingly, and Shubhankar Soundankar is adept at his job. Sound Design by Vikrant Pawar and music by Nishaad Golambare are in keeping with the theme and location of the film, almost entirely Western.

Victoria-Ek Rahasya has a secret alright. Many of us know how to keep a secret. But the film is not about keeping a secret, rather about peeling it, layer after layer. That is a form of cinematic art. It is in this process that the film is found wanting. With such resources and a dream location, much more could have been achieved. Victoria-Ek Rahasya remains an example of lost opportunity. Wonder what dictated the choice of Scotland as the setting. Was it government’s film incentive? That shall remain part of the untold tale of Victoria Hotel.

Rating: **


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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