Somewhere along the Chokkampatti Hills where Periyar starts
Some successes are meant to be, and so it is that ‘Premam’ has become the year’s biggest box office success, catapulting its lead actor NivinPauly into superstardom.
Years ago, when Priyardarshan’s ‘Kilukkam’ became the rage and sensation, an impromptu Ootty trip became a tribute to the movie as ten of us trekked down to every spot in the hill station where the film was shot.
It was 'film madness' at its heights that culminated in a group photo with Disco Shanthi (the then sex-siren), who was shooting with a big Telugu actor, whose name hardly rang a bell for us.
It is therefore with little surprise that I watch hordes of youngsters, a number of them couples or potentials, making a beeline for the aqueduct on which Premam’s superhit song ‘Aluvapuzhayude’ was shot.
For years, the aqueduct was the monstrous ‘good for nothing’ construction that people would curse for every woe. Its mere presence meant a hurdle in widening an increasingly busy road to Alangad (which in a way serves as a fascinating detour if you want to reach Kochi without being bogged down by highway traffic).
A number of stories circulate about the aqueduct, a part of the Periyar Valley Irrigation Project.
Built in the early 1970s, it is described as "an abandoned project, after an engineering design made it flawed and unworkable" in the quest to bring the ‘dead water’ of Periyar river, which has been sucked out of its electricity and lies still as death in the Bhoothathankettu reservoir, to the lower reaches of Ernakulam district. Oldtimers recall how the nearly 12 ft piling (almost the height of the aqueduct) cracked up homes in the vicinity.
The dead water sucked of power carried downstream for irrigation
There has always been a magical charm to the story of Periyar, and in earlier adventures to trace it back to source, a road-trip had taken us to what we believe is the slope of the Chokkampatti hills on the Western Ghats from where it starts as a trickle.
The river makes two significant diversions at the point where it meets the famed Aluva Shivarathri temple.
Gone are the sandy beds of the river now but the reverence you feel for the temple, where a stone idol submerges under river water every monsoon, is palpable.
If surreal is the right word, you feel that here. Under fading sunlight and a starlit sky, you can watch trains ply over a distant bridge and live a similar ambience that MT Vasudevan Nair so vividly describes about his own favourite river, the Nila.
Here at the once-sandy river bed, thousands also congregate to bid goodbye to their dear and departed, and come every year for annual tributes.
Where it begins
It could be that the deathly pangs of the mortals and their quest for heavenly salvation become so unbearable the river divides into two here.
One stream heads down to Mangalapuzha to join Chalakudy river and end in Lakshadweep Sea at Munambam. The other under the now 75-year-old Marthandavarma Bridge and drain into the Arabian Sea at Varappuzha.
And our story starts, rather becomes relevant, with this second branch of the river.
An intricate network of canals and aqueducts, in fact, had been envisaged as part of the massive World Bank funded project; you can see them through the road-trip to Perumbavoor and Kothamangalam. But things get a bit murky when it reaches Aluva.
According to a few old-timers, an underground canal that carries the ‘dead water’ ends near the Aluva fish market, where the ‘Premam Aqueduct’ marks its start. Here the water rises up and continues its journey through the aqueduct for irrigating land further down. Or so, they say. They vouch that the aqueduct is not so useless as it seems and it irrigates farmlands as far away as Koonammavu.
Others claim that no water has passed through it since their early memory, and it is an engineering debacle that profited an ‘engineer from Kottayam’ and the mismanagement was summarily buried by the media. Well, this is all unverified.
What we can, however, see today is an entry point to the aqueduct that is typically messy. The stench from the market is perhaps the first thing that greets you.'
View of the Marthandavarma Bridge from the aqueduct
Realty developers have cashed in on the prospects and you have a number of high rises with ‘river views,’ one right at the start of the aqueduct.
Its first lap gives you a glimpse of Kunjunnikara island, which is home to the famous Uliyanoor Temple associated with Perumthachan.
Ha, the magic of folklore. His envy at his own son outsmarting him in temple architecture led to the man ‘killing’ the youngster, a story reinterpreted with such dignity by MT and enacted with finesse by Thilakan.
The 'Premam' brigade
People fish in Periyar from the aqueduct, and you can now see a steady flow of youngsters in bicycles and bikes on traverse it trying to relive the ‘Premam’ moments.
Walk past the first part, right over Periyar River, watch it take a detour, and you enter land lined by homes. It is almost as if the river just disappears.
Agriculture has long given way to patches of wasteland where buffalos enjoy symbiotic moments with black crows. Rows of nutmeg trees line the path, apart from dead, dying and some fruity coconut trees. As if to remind us of Kerala’s one-time misadventure with cocoa farming, there are a few of them too.
At several points the railings have given way totally leaving wide, danger-prone holes. You also pass exit points to the mainland before you hit the second patch of the aqueduct (the real Premam one) that passes over Periyar again and overlooks the Marthandavarma bridge.
Where it ends
No matter the decay around, the views from here are majestic. Youngsters in packs celebrate ‘selfie’ moments for Facebook posts. The turn where the hero meets with the heroine's dad is postcard perfect with bamboos and verdant green trees.
The aqueduct, however, doesn’t end here. You walk on, and what you see is a microcosm of Kerala – palatial houses that flaunt Gulf and US expat money, small dwellings, dilapidated lamp posts, wastelands of green, marshes and water canals that are still needed to meet daily needs.
It is no more than a 45-minute walk, picturesque at best, before the aqueduct ends as abruptly as it begins.
There is nothing but a ditch, overgrown with vegetation that marks the endpoint. A few steps down the aqueduct and you reach the North Parur road, right by the historic UC College.
Right now, the innard of the aqueduct isbrimming with water – is it from Bhoothathankettu or from the heavy monsoon rains is hard to tell.
When water flows, the aqueduct 'leaks' with the water trickling down to the roads to deepen the potholes. In summer, it still serves as an easy conduit to walk from UC College to the Aluva market.
Alphonse Puthren. The name itself is novel. Just like Premam, the name of its director too grabbed eyeballs.
But come home to the Manjooran house here at Aluva Kalathil Lane, ‘Puthren’ (son) becomes father, and the son becomes Alphonse. Here, there is a ‘Puthri’ (daughter) too – Alphonse’s sister, Dr. Puthri Puthren.
Alphonse was baptized as Alphonse Joseph Paul. But when he was admitted to L.K.G in Ootty, his name was changed to Alphonse Puthren. Alphonse’s father’s name was Puthren Paul, and it was Alphonse’s grandfather, M.C. Paul, who gave this unique name to his son. Yes, there is a story behind that too!
Paul was working at a coffee house in Mumbai during the Second World War, and that is when the story begins. A guy named ‘Puthren’, who hailed from Andhra Pradesh used to work in the coffee shop where Paul worked. One day, he went to one of the ships to give coffee, and he was killed in a bomb blast there. Paul was deeply hurt by that incident. That is how Paul decided to name his next son ‘Puthren’.
As for ‘Puthren’, he decided to lovingly call his daughter ‘Puthri’. If his dad could call him ‘Puthren’, then why not call his own daughter ‘Puthri’?! This is what Puthren thought. Today, Puthri is a dentist and is settled in the U.K with her husband Raphy Paul.
The name Alphonse is the contribution of his mom Daisy who decided to name her son after Saint Alphonsa. Daisy, who had two lovely daughters, prayed for a son when she was pregnant for the third time.
Daisy was three months pregnant when she visited the famous Bharananganam Church to pray for a boy. As she pressed her head on the holy bed of the St. Alphonsa, a breeze passed by her. It seems the breeze told her that she was going to have a boy!
Alphonse was born on February 10, the same day when Saint Chavara was born. It is believed that Saint Chavara came in Saint Alphonse’s dream and cured her illness. Daisy found it a miracle that her son was also born on the same auspicious date. Alphonse has another sister named Mary. She lives with her husband Bejoy in Qatar.
The director of Premam has always been media shy. Unmoved by the brouhaha over his movie, this guy still takes a rickshaw to commute around. Even though he has done two blockbuster movies, Neram andPremam, his interviews have not come out much in the media. He also stays away from the promotions of the film. But the residents of Aluva are not surprised by this. That is how Alphonse is. He loves to travel in an auto than in an AC car!
Alphonse was obsessed about cinema from childhood. That is how he left to Chennai to pursue studies in digital film making. Alphonse has never assisted anyone, and yet took Neram that topped charts. He directed a music album named Yuvvh before Neram. Alphonse believes that the fate of a film is determined by its screenplay, rather than the story.
Due to their hard-core love for cinema, Alphonse and his family would go for movies every week. Daisy used to be a good critic and after watching a movie, she would imagine how the plot-line could have been changed for better.
During her school days, Daisy has won the first prize in a story writing competition held by a bunch of film-makers. But later, she left writing and ventured out to be a beautician. Apparently, Daisy is the first beauty parlour owner in Aluva. She had run a beauty parlour in Kochi also for some time. The first gent’s beauty parlour in Kochi was started by Alphonse's father, Puthren Paul. It was called ‘Gents Beauty Parlour’, and was located at Ammankovil Road. Puthren, who used to work at Premier Tyres in Aluva, had a parlour in TAS road at Aluva as well. Both Puthren and Daisy had completed their beautician course from Singapore.
Alphonse prefers English over Malayalam to write his script and screenplay. The reason being his fluency in the language of course, as he studied in Ootty from L.K.G to sixth standard. He completed his B.Sc in Computer Science from MES College in Marampally before leaving to Chennai for film studies. Most of his close friends from college are seen in his two films.
Alphonse, Nivin, and their bunch of friends used to visit ‘Gopu’s Sarbath Shop’ that was located near Aluva Palace. The shop is shown in ‘Premam’ -- the one where the guys come and ask for Kus Kus in order to cool their soda. It is shown as ‘Gopus Cool Bar’ in the film, and is located at the junction near actor Dileep’s house. Gopu, who runs the real shop, is shown as Unni, who runs the shop in the movie. But the shop shown in the movie is not real. It is a set that was put at Uliyannoor, a small village near Aluva.
After Premam became a hit, the number of youngsters who throng Gopu’s shop has risen. Their latest marketing technique is ‘Premam’ sarbath that is available in the shop, and for that, they have stuck a poster saying the same!
Alphonse, who strongly believes that a film is a director’s complete responsibility, does not let anyone interfere in it. Not even the producer! He is very strict at the film location. After completing his film studies from Chennai, he wrote the script and screenplay for Neram, and waited for seven long years for a producer.
Premam is undoubtedly Aluva’s own film. The pulse is felt not just in the song Aluva Puzhayude Theerathu. Many youngsters from Aluva have been part of this film. Nivin, Anend Chandran who is the cinematographer, Alphonse, Jude Anthany Joseph, who is also a director, Sabareesh Varma who has penned down the songs, Krishnachandran, Saraf and Siju who comes as Nivin’s friends on-screen, are some of the prominent Aluvites who were part of the movie.
Alphonse Puthren lights a lamp during the film puja of 'Premam'. Producer Anwar Rasheed, Actors Dulquer Salmaan, Fahadh Faasil and Nivin Pauly look on.
Jude and Alphonse were classmates at Paravoor St. Aloysius High School. Sabareesh and Alphonse are friends from MES College. Nivin, Siju and Alphonse belong to the same church. The story and screenplay for Premam was done in a small house near U.C. College in Aluva. The main locations for the film were Uliyannoor and U.C College, and both were very close.
Most of the actors in the film are their friends from ‘Gopus Cool Bar Association’! In the film, Alphonse has added an incident that he has heard from his mother Daisy. But his mom came to know about this only after watching the movie. In the movie, Nivin’s house is shown as ‘Kalaparambath’, and that is for real. Alphonse’s mother Daisy also belongs to the same family. It is popularly called as Karumaloor Kalaparambath.