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Kerala Tourism’s ‘Varkala & 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 Sudheesh, unspools the thriller of a Colonial-era shipwreck off the Varkala-Anchuthengu coast

Varkala and the Mystery of the Dutch Wreck, directed by filmmaker Abhilash Sudheesh, unspools the thriller of a Colonial-era shipwreck off the Varkala-Anchuthengu coast

Beyond the laidback seashores and spectacular cliff views of the sea, Varkala and its environment have a hoary previous. It was as soon as a centre of colonial commerce for the Dutch East India Company and later, the British-led East India Company.

Kerala Tourism’s newest brief movie, ‘Varkala and the Mystery of the Dutch Wreck,’ directed by filmmaker Abhilash Sudheesh, unspools the thriller of a Colonial-era shipwreck off the Varkala-Anchuthengu coast.

“The idea for the film came about in the midst of a conversation about the book, Kadalarivukalum Neranubhavangalum, by marine researcher and deep-sea diver Robert Panipillai, which I had with ad man Kenney Jacob, who runs the ‘Kerala Tales’ social media handle of Kerala Tourism,” says Abhilash. One chapter of the guide, which unfolds the secrets and techniques of the seas, is devoted to the wreck of the Dutch buying and selling ship the Wimmenum (1752), which sank about 9 miles off Anchuthengu village, close to Varkala, some 250-plus years in the past. Robert was arguably the first to doc the wreck. 

“Kerala Tourism was keen on making a film about it, [even] though the shipwreck is some 48m below sea level and difficult to access even for experienced divers. The filmmaker in me was intrigued enough to dive deep into the challenge of making a film about it. I was inspired by Tintin comics, particularly The Adventures of Tintin: Red Rackham’s Treasure, while creating the film,” says Abhilash, 27, the Thiruvananthapuram-based founder of advert movie home eleventh Hour Productions.

Abhilash Sudheesh, director of ‘Varkala and the Mystery of the Dutch Wreck’ says he was impressed by Tintin comics, notably The Adventures of Tintin: Red Rackham’s Treasure whereas creating the movie.
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The seven-and-a-half-minute movie begins with a younger traveller’s (performed by actor and singer Anoop Mohandas) journey to Varkala on a quest to seek out out extra about the well-known ‘Dutch bell’ of the historic Sree Janardhana Swamy temple excessive up on the Varkala cliff, which he had first encountered in his childhood. 

Myths and legends about Wimmenum

As defined in the movie with a brief animated reel, there are a number of tales of how the forged iron bell of the Wimmenum ended up at the temple. One story is about how the ship as soon as obtained caught off the Varkala coast and its captain prayed to the deity to launch it from its distress and subsequently donated the bell to the temple when his want was granted. A second story recounts how native pirates sank the ship and looted its hoard, and one more refers to how the ship went down in a large storm. “In reality, the bell – which has inscriptions about the ship and its maker – doesn’t hang inside the temple (as is shown in the film) but is stored in a corner of the sanctum sanctorum. Since photography is not allowed inside, the bell was painstakingly replicated in entirety for the film,” explains Abhilash. 

A still from the short film ‘Varkala and the Mystery of the Dutch Wreck’

A nonetheless from the brief movie ‘Varkala and the Mystery of the Dutch Wreck’
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The story of the bell finally leads our younger explorer to Wimmenum’s wreck. “It was challenging from the get go because we had little in the way of historical records to go on,” says Abhilash. For occasion, there are not any eyewitness accounts of this specific shipwreck. There is simply sparse details about the ship at the Dutch nationwide archives in the Netherlands, like how the identify, Wimmenum, comes from the identify of a coastal village in Holland and that there have been 356 crew members on board when it sank, in keeping with Robert’s guide. 

However, there may be lots of native lore about the shipwreck handed down by generations. “One such person in the know was fisherman Biju, whose family had been fishing the waters for decades. He appears as himself in the film and took us to the site in his own boat. The fisherfolk like Biju have long known about a particularly bountiful portion of the sea, about an hour away by speed boat, home to many different schools of fish and a guaranteed catch. Not many people knew why it was so until Robert dived and found concrete evidence of the shipwreck-turned-artificial reef,” explains Abhilash, who spent two years researching and filming the challenge. 

The different most important problem for the filmmaker was the precise deep sea dive to get underwater footage. “The initial dive had to be aborted at 30m due to poor visibility. Biju came up with the idea of tying a GoPro camera to a fishing rope and we were able to capture a brief glimpse of the ship! The sea along Varkala coast is not ideal for diving in the best of conditions for it is often rough, the ocean currents are high and visibility at 48m depth is poor and murky. “The best time to dive along the Varkala coast there is just after the retreating monsoons when the sea is much calmer. So, a few months later we did that attempted another dive with the help of certified divers from Kovalam and accomplished the task,” says Abhilash. 

The unimaginable footage they obtained displays the younger explorer’s bliss of discovery, a becoming metaphor for what wondrous Varkala itself is to legions of travellers. Keep a watch out for an extended, director’s minimize of the brief movie, to be launched shortly.

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