Kerala Tourism’s short film ‘Varkala and the Mystery of the Dutch Wreck’  dives into the underwater legends of the coastal town


Varkala and the Mystery of the Dutch Wreck, directed by filmmaker Abhilash Sudhish, unravels the mystery of a colonial-era shipwreck off the Varkala-Anchuthengu coast

The mystery of Varkala and the Dutch wreck, Directed by filmmaker Abhilash Sudhish, Varkala-Anchuthengu unravels the mystery of a colonial-era shipwreck off the coast

Beyond serene beaches and spectacular cliff views of the sea, Varkala and its surroundings have a spooky past. It was once the center of colonial trade for the Dutch East India Company and later the British-led East India Company.

kerala tourism latest short film, ‘The mystery of Varkala and the Dutch wreck’,’ directed by filmmaker Abhilash Sudhish, unravels the mystery of a colonial-era shipwreck off the Varkala-Anchuthengu coast.

Abhilash Sudhish, director of ‘Varkala and the Mystery of the Dutch Wreck’. photo credit: special arrangement

“The idea for the film came amid talks about the book, Kadalarivokkalam Neranubhavangalam, By marine researcher and deep sea diver Robert Panipillai, who I had with advertising man Kenny Jacob, who runs the Kerala Tourism’s ‘Kerala Tales’ social media handle,” says Abhilash. uncovers, dedicated to the wreck of the Dutch trading ship Vimenum, which sank nine miles from the village of Anchuthengu, near Varkala, more than 250 years ago. Robert was arguably the first to document the wreck.

“Kerala Tourism was keen to make a film about it, however the wreckage of the ship is about 48 meters below sea level and difficult to reach even for experienced divers. The filmmaker in me was eager to dive deeper into the challenge of making a film about it. I was inspired by the Tintin comics, especially The Adventures of Tintin: Red Rackham’s TreasureWhile making the film,” says 27-year-old Abhilash, founder of Thiruvananthapuram-based ad film house 11th Hour Productions.

A scene from the short film 'Varkala and the Mystery of the Dutch Wreck'

A still from the short film ‘Varkala and the Mystery of the Dutch Wreck’ | photo credit: special arrangement

The seven-and-a-half-minute film begins with a young traveler (played by actor and singer Anoop Mohandas) on a journey to Varkala to learn more about the famous ‘Dutch bell’ of the ancient Sri Janardhana Swamy temple. On the Varkala rock, which he encountered for the first time in his childhood.

myths and legends

As explained in the film with a short animated reel, there are many stories about how the cast iron bell womanum Ended up in the temple. There is a story about how the ship once got stuck on the Varkala coast and its captain prayed to the deity to free it from its misery and later when his wish was fulfilled he donated the bell to the temple. A second story tells of how local pirates sank the ship and plundered its billboards, and another story tells of how the ship went down in a great storm. “In fact the bell – which has inscriptions about the ship and its builder – does not hang inside the temple (as shown in the film) but is stored in a corner of the sanctum sanctorum. Since photography is not allowed inside, the film For the bell was completely repeated,” explains Abhilash.

The bell’s story eventually leads our young explorer to the wreck of Womenum. “It was challenging from the beginning as we had little historical records to go ahead with,” says Abhilash. For example, there are no eyewitness accounts of this particular shipwreck. The Dutch National Archives in the Netherlands contains only scarce information about the ship, such as how the name comes from the name of Wiemenum, a coastal village in Holland and, according to Robert, when it sank, it had 356 crew members. . book.

However, there is a lot of local lore about the shipwreck that has been passed down for generations. “One such person I knew was the fisherman Biju, whose family had been fishing in the water for decades. He appears in the film as himself and took us to the site in his boat. Fishermen like Biju have long known of a particularly plentiful part of the ocean, about an hour away by speed boat, home to many different schools of fish and a guaranteed catch. Not many people knew why this was until Robert dived in and found solid evidence of an artificial reef from the wreckage,” explains Abhilash, who spent two years researching and filming the project.

The other main challenge for the filmmaker was the actual deep sea dive to get the underwater footage. “The initial dive had to be stopped at 30 meters due to poor visibility. Biju came up with the idea of ​​tying the GoPro camera to a fishing cord and we were able to catch a brief glimpse of the ship! The sea along the Varkala Coast is not ideal for diving in the best of conditions as it is often rough, ocean currents are high and visibility is poor and hazy at a depth of 48 m. “The best time to dive along Varkala Coast is right after the retreat of monsoon when the sea is very calm. So, a few months later we attempted another dive with the help of certified divers from Kovalam and the job was done. done,” says Abhilash.

The incredible footage they found captures the young explorer’s joy of discovery, an apt metaphor for the wonderful Varkala that legions of travellers have. Keep an eye out for a while, the director’s cut of the short film, set to release soon.

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