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UCA student celebrates life of Colonel John Pennycuick

MA Filmmaking: Documentary student, Santhana Beeroli, has spent the past eight years studying the pioneering engineer, Colonel John Pennycuick, in research for his film.

Pennycuick is widely known amongst the Tamil community of India as the engineer behind the Mullaiperiyar Dam, constructed between 1887 and 1895. The project was established to provide water to the arid rain shadow region of Madurai, which was in dire need of a greater supply.

Santhana, who grew up in the Theni District of Tamil Nadu, discovered that while Colonel Pennycuick’s efforts have deemed him a hero in India, there isn’t much known about him in the UK, even by his own family. In response to this, Santhana travelled to England to begin his research into the great engineer, compiling his findings into a film-documentary.

In 2018, Santhana made a request to the Church Ministry in London to preserve the cemetery of Pennycuick and also to erect a statue for him in his home town of Camberley. A year later, his ambition was brought to life and the statue was unveiled at Saint Peters Church on Saturday.

“My people worship Pennycuick like a god. He sold his own property to finish building the dam after it collapsed and the government stopped the funding. He didn’t take a single day off in all those years, so to us he is a hero.

“The dam stands to this day as a testimony of his engineering skills and philanthropic nature, and continues to touch the lives of millions of people living along the waterways more than a century after it’s construction.”

The statue and headstone were dedicated to Colonel Pennycuick at his renovated resting place in honour of his services, which Santhana hopes will go some way to raising the profile of the revered British engineer in his home country of England. The unveiling was attended by the Indian High Commissioner as well as a local councillor.

“During my research I found his family members, including his grandson and great-grandson, who knew very little about him. His story is so popular in India because of the impact he had over there, but I believe the people of England would like to know about his sacrifices and contributions too.”

Eight years of Santhana’s research is being compiled into a film which is he is producing on his MA Filmmaking: Documentary course at UCA.

“The reason I came to study at UCA was to finish my documentary. I’m good at writing but needed help with the visual effects. It’s going very well and I’m having a good time here. I should say a big thanks to my course leader Simon, he’s been really supportive of my project and I’m on track to be finishing my film soon.

“My experience of the local area in Farnham has been amazing. It is a great atmosphere to study in and there are a variety of cultures who are all really friendly.”